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Sam’s Burger Joint and the quiet end of the Riverwalk…

Yesterday, Bill asked me what I wanted for dinner.  I said I wanted to go downtown.  So we went to Sam’s Burger Joint, which is near the Pearl Complex close to downtown San Antonio.  I had read about this place on a very entertaining blog written by a group of folks in search of the perfect burger joint in San Antonio.  The burger bloggers didn’t really give it high marks, but I was intrigued by it, especially since Sam’s Burger Joint is also a local music venue.

Bill and I got there at around 6:00, ordered our sandwiches and fries, and then got a couple of draft beers.  Shiner Oktoberfest was selling for $3 as was Bud.  I don’t drink Bud anymore, but was curious about the Shiner, which is a Texas brew.

The place has an interesting decor… lots of concert posters, license plates, and beer lights…  It looks a bit like a grungy, greasy spoon.  You can also eat outside where there was a live musician playing last night.

Waiting…

Obamacare, here I come!  The cheese on that burger was actually falling off when I picked up this sandwich, which I cut in quarters.

The beer list.

 

 

After we ate, we walked around the quieter end of the Riverwalk.  There was a free concert going on and the guy who was playing was pretty good…

An old beer relic…

Culinary Institute of America campus in San Antonio.

Ducks!

Nice shot near the Pearl Brewery Complex.

Waterfalls…

This was near where the guy was having his concert.  As we passed this area, a young guy ran past us.  He had a pudgy looking bulldog trailing him, the leash flopping along.  A few minutes later, we somehow passed this same duo, only they were now walking and panting.

A grotto…

We almost missed the face…

Fishes near the San Antonio Art Museum…

 

We had a nice time and got home by 8:30.  I took a very quick dip in the pool and then we listened to some music and went to bed…  It was a pleasant evening.

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SeaDream tempts me again…

SeaDream  must be having a hell of a time filling up their cruises to Costa Rica.  I’ve been wanting to sign up for one.  But we had to move and life is more expensive in Texas than it was in North Carolina.  Yesterday, they sent me a private sale email with very attractive prices for three cruises, two of which are in Costa Rica.  The prices are low enough that I checked Delta to see how expensive flights are…

Sadly, it would cost a bundle to get down to Costa Rica or Panama.  I suppose I could check again… or maybe cash in some credit card points.  I really do want to visit Costa Rica and this is a great opportunity.  But it would be kind of irresponsible to go down there right now…  It would cost about $1500-$1900 just to fly to Costa Rica.  Then it would cost about $5200 for the cruise itself, which is not bad for SeaDream, but more than we have right now as we’re planning for Bill’s retirement.

*Sigh*

As much as the house in North Carolina was falling apart, I sure do miss the extra money we had there…

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Is sex in hotel rooms really THAT much better?

Last night, Bill tagged me in an article he shared on Facebook that was on CNN.  He wanted me to read it because we have had the ability to travel a lot and have stayed in a lot of hotels, some of which were really cool.  But I read the article and my mind ended up going in a completely different direction.

Susie Crane, author of the article entitled “Why sex is better in hotels– and other confessions of a constant traveler”, is apparently very blessed.  She and her husband spent about two years traveling the world and staying in a series of luxury hotels.  Crane explains that she met her man in the lobby of the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles.  Their next three dates were in Venice, Big Sur, and Milan, respectively.  All of their biggest moments were spent in hotels… not Motel 6s, mind you, but luxury properties where there are beautiful views, blackout curtains, and perfectly pressed sheets.

Though Crane and her husband are clearly jet setters, they also apparently have homes in Italy, Uruguay, Argentina, California, and New Zealand.  After reading her article, I kind of wonder if she counts hotels as “homes”…  that’s a lot of property for someone who never goes home.  But I guess she and her husband must be rich.  Or maybe their “homes” abroad are just shacks.  Somehow, I doubt it.

I read the comments related to this article and noticed that quite a lot of people felt the author was “vapid” and “spoiled”.  Indeed, given the current employment climate, I can see why people were annoyed by the article and the author’s boasting about staying in really nice hotels.  But what got me was when she wrote about having sex on a dining room table at The Ring Hotel in Vienna, Austria.

Crane writes:

Sex requires surfaces, and if the surface of your partner never changes, the location can add the variety you crave.

At The Ring Hotel in Vienna we were once given a magnificent suite with an enormous dining table that we eyed lustfully.

If we were at home, such escapades never would have happened: naked on the table where we’d eat Thanksgiving dinner?

And my first thought was that it seemed odd that the author would object to having sex on her own dining room table, which she had presumably kept clean and knew what or who had been on it, but would happily screw on a hotel dining table where lots of people may have gotten the idea to do the nasty.  If you have a wild idea to do something crazy in a hotel room, chances are good someone else has too.  Just sayin’.

To her credit, Crane does mention that she’s probably not the only one who has had sex on unconventional surfaces in hotels, but just like Scarlett O’Hara, she decides not to think about that.  Frankly, I’d rather have sex in a bed than on a table.  Guess I’m not as adventurous as Susie Crane is.  And now that I know that she enjoys having sex on dining room tables in hotel rooms, I guess I might think twice about eating a meal on one…  That is, if I ever stay in a hotel room that posh.

The truth is, though, I don’t remember ever having sex in a hotel room.  I thought I might on my wedding night, but I was a virgin on the big day and we stayed in a really nice B&B.  I started to think about what could happen and decided I’d rather do the big deed in my own bed.  Then, a few hours after the ceremony, I promptly started my period.  Couple that with Bill’s headache because he neglected to eat at the reception, and you have a couple of people who weren’t feeling all that sexy on the day we tied the knot.

Probably the best comment on the article is this one…

This is so incredibly out of touch, privileged, and just creepy enough to force me to leave this comment…please stop writing. I mean completely. Just stop. You’re truly a vapid, spoiled individual.

Not surprisingly, it was voted the top comment and has over 2300 “likes”.  23 people thought it was a sucky comment and voted it down.  The down voters accuse the up voters of being “jealous”.  That’s probably a fair enough assessment.  On the other hand, I notice that the author also writes fiction, which explains why her article has such a breathless quality.  She’s probably written more than a few sex scenes in her fiction…  That’s probably why I prefer to read non-fiction.

Anyway, I don’t think sex in hotel rooms is that much better… even though I’ve never experienced it.  I’d rather do that in my own home and my own bed, where I won’t bother anyone if things get noisy or messy.  Not that they ever do…

I’m gonna stop now.  😉

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A night on the town in San Antonio…

A few weeks ago, I wrote on The Overeducated Housewife about a guy I knew in high school who is a devout Mormon reprimanding me on Facebook because I expressed a desire to see The Book of Mormon Musical.  Bill is an ex Mormon convert who enjoys ribald humor as much as I do.  Seeing the show would also give us the chance to see San Antonio’s historic Majestic Theater.  So I bought us tickets to see the BOM Musical and booked us a reservation at Biga on the Banks, a swanky restaurant that overlooks San Antonio’s famed River Walk.  Our big “date” was last night.  It was the last night the show was going to be in town; I believe they’re heading to Austin next.

I got all dolled up and changed my Facebook photo, which is what I tend to do when I look pretty and put on makeup (it doesn’t happen that often).  I had a photo of Bill and me looking all lovey dovey and one of my friends lamented that I changed the photo.  So I had Bill join me for another one…

No, he didn’t give me a hickey…

 

But I changed the actual photo to one of just me.  I’m starting to look old now…

The top one is the one I used, but the bottom one seemed to be more popular among the masses.  I’m really glad I got these photos last night, because this morning I have a nasty cold sore.

So, after the obligatory selfies, Bill and I got to Biga on the Banks for our 5:30pm reservation.  But our trip out on the town wasn’t without some comedy.  Bill was trying to start the car and found that it was completely unresponsive.  I had been having some issues with the car starting.  I was slightly worried, until I noticed that Bill had forgotten to put the key in the key fob.  Oops.  Guess his middle aged mind is striking again.

We were a little confused at first, trying to find the entrance to the restaurant.  It turned out to be a pretty awesome dining experience, though.  We had a great waitress named Gigi who was very aware that we were going to a show and did a fantastic job describing the restaurant’s philosophy.  Biga on the Banks is owned by Chef Bruce Auden, who is also running the kitchen.  They’ve been in San Antonio for 23 years and the menu changes daily, based on whatever excellent food the chef gets his hands on.  Gigi told us that if it wasn’t amazing, the chef would not buy it…  The suppliers all know this, so they bring the chef their best.

In all honesty, I believe what Gigi told us.  We had an outstanding meal.

I started with a grapefruit martini, while Bill had an Old Fashioned.  He likes classic cocktails, while I like fun stuff…  I actually debated over the opening cocktail.  I considered having a Bellini or a blueberry martini, but the grapefruit martini seemed more refreshing.

I enjoyed a delightful scallop appetizer, paired with a sweet corn relish, pineapple chutney, and avocado.  It had a little zing, thanks to the habanero pepper.  These scallops were awesome.  I don’t usually go for spicy, but there was just enough habanero to give this dish a little kick.  

Bill had roasted cauliflower soup.  The bowl was brought out with the cauliflower in it; then Gigi poured the liquid in with a pitcher.  This was a very velvety, smokey soup.  I think I would enjoy it in the winter, even though I have never considered myself a cauliflower fan.

We decided on Frog’s Leap Zinfandel to go with our main courses.  As you can see, we got the “Ribbit” cork.  All Frog’s Leap wines have them.

While we waited for dinner, I took pictures of Bill…

Handsome guy…  We definitely need to take him suit shopping soon, though.  All those years in a green uniform have dated his jackets.  

I had an excellent rib-eye steak that was served on the sizzling griddle.  I asked for a plate, because I feared burning the shit out of myself on the griddle, as awesome as it is to hear sizzling meat.  The steak is topped with onion rings that were dipped in a batter made with Shiner Bock beer.  My entree came with simple mashed potatoes and green beans sauteed in garlic…

 

The two pictures above are of Bill’s entree, which was really amazing, especially for a guy who spent his formative years in Arkansas.  He loves game meats.  I guess it’s the redneck in him.  His dish consisted of quail, venison, and a goat cheese tart.  I don’t like goat cheese much, but I did enjoy tasting the quail and the venison.  Bill really enjoyed his entree, perhaps more than I enjoyed mine.  I really need to be more adventurous in places like Biga on the Banks…  But I think a certain monthly ritual had me craving beef, chocolate, and red wine last night…

This was my dessert… chocolate mousse.  It was absolutely sinful.  I wish I could have brought it home with me, but we went to the show, so…  It did a great job of soothing the chocolate loving beast in me.

Bill had bread pudding with vanilla ice cream, pears, and raisins.  It was very comforting and I probably would have loved it in winter.  He sure enjoyed it… though I preferred my chocolate mousse.

 

After Bill settled the check, which took some doing since the waitress initially gave us two wrong checks, Bill and I walked to the Majestic Theater, which was teeming with people there to see the last San Antonio performance of the Book of Mormon Musical.  We had pretty good seats in row T, though there was a lady sitting in front of me who was kind of tall and had big hair.  When you’re short like I am, this is a common issue.  I could have used a booster seat.  I spent most of the show peeking between her and her husband.

This is a picture of the stage…

And the Playbill…

 

I got a picture of the outside of the theater, too.  Unfortunately, I deleted the photos from my card before they were successfully imported.  The Majestic Theater is absolutely beautiful.  We are lucky to have such a fantastic venue so close to us right now.  I look forward to seeing more shows there before our next move… if we ever do leave San Antonio.

The Book of Mormon Musical comes from the people who brought us South Park and Avenue Q.  I am not familiar with Avenue Q… but I know that Trey Parker and Matt Stone collaborated with Robert Lopez, who is partially responsible for Avenue Q.  I love South Park and have spent my years with Bill learning more about Mormonism, so it was a given I’d want to see this show.  It is a very irreverent musical about Mormon missionaries who end up in Uganda, where they try to convert locals to the church.  The locals are rightfully more concerned with poverty, AIDS, and dealing with a warlord with an unprintable name obsessed with female circumcision.

The LDS church, for its part, doesn’t seem overly happy about the musical.  However, we did notice that the church seems to have a savvy PR person who recognized the potential value in the buzz the show is generating.  There were ads in the Playbill inviting theatergoers to read the book… because the book is always better, right?  Frankly, I don’t think that’s true in this case; but that’s just my opinion.  I do know of at least one person who joined the Mormon church after seeing this show and I am sure she wasn’t the only one.

Ad for the LDS church in Playbill.  Kudos to the marketing genius who saw the opportunity to sell the church to theater lovers…  Smart move!

 

Anyone who knows about Mormonism will recognize a lot of the jokes, though not everything is perfectly accurate.  For instance, Elder Price and Elder Cunningham talk about being companions for two years.  From what I understand, missionaries are usually rotated regularly.  One companion is usually more experienced so the newer missionary can learn the ropes.  But it would be difficult to explain that to an audience and it would also not be as funny, since Elder Cunningham (played brilliantly by the very funny Christopher John O’Neill last night) is very annoying and it’s fun to think of how the straight laced Elder Price (played by Mark Evans) would cope with such an obnoxious guy for that long.

I did see a lot of elements of South Park-esque humor… with the lead characters sounding a little like a mixture of Cartman, Kyle Brovlovski, and Stan Marsh at times.  Christopher John O’Neill’s turn as Elder Cunningham actually reminded me of my best friend from college, who remains my friend today.  He really stole the show with genius physical comedy!

I was also really impressed by Samantha Marie Ware, who played Nabulungi, the female lead.  The character is a good natured local girl whose father is concerned for her clitoris.  She befriends Elder Cunningham and becomes his first baptism, though he constantly gets her name wrong.  Ware played her role to the hilt and sang her socks off.

Needless to say, this show is not for those who are easily offended by language or sexual humor.  Frankly, I loved it… and it looked like just about everyone else in the theater did, too.  The theater was packed and there was a very prolonged standing ovation.  Everyone laughed in the right places.  I would happily see this show again and will definitely buy the soundtrack.  If it comes to your town, you should definitely see it if it’s your kind of comedy.  But I can’t stress it enough… the humor is very gross and profane.  If cuss words make you blush, pick another show.

Bill and I had a great night on the town.  If the government doesn’t shut down this week, we’ll have to do it again sometime soon!

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Flying Saucer, San Antonio, Texas

Back in August 2007, Bill and I visited the San Antonio Flying Saucer, a brew/gastro pub that is part of a chain of similar pubs across the southeast.  In September 2003, we visited the Flying Saucer in Memphis, Tennessee, located near his father’s house.  I proceeded to get a bit drunk, mainly because it was stressful visiting his family in the shadow of Bill’s ex wife.

Anyway, what I remember about our first visit was that there wasn’t a lot of food, but there was a lot of beer.  And it was fun hanging out there, even though we got there in time for a shift change and I could tell our waitress wanted us to move on.  Her attitude changed once we settled the check and Bill tipped her.  So we went to the one in San Antonio in 2007, right after Bill got home from Iraq.  His mom was with us and we had a cute little waitress who was obviously very young.  We kept ordering beers that were on the menu but sold out.  Every time I would pick one, she’d come back and say that they were fresh out.

I turned to Bill and said, “It’s not much of a cheese shop, is it?”  Bill got the reference, but our poor hapless waitress did not…

Today, we went back to the Flying Saucer and proceeded to enjoy an afternoon of Texas beers…

Had to get a shot of this huge Texas flag on the way… storm clouds were brewing…

View from our pub table.

Some of the folks who are regular beerknurds…

 

I thought it was interesting this sign was posted in the bathroom…  I figure by the time you get there, it’s too late to warn pregnant women about booze.

Thoughtful that they don’t want you to dirty your hands after you wash them…

They have a dog friendly porch.  Might have to bring the dogs sometime.

A flight of Texas beers… They were mostly excellent.

Bill looks thrilled to be at the Flying Saucer…

No, this isn’t as exciting as going to an Irish pub in Ireland, but it’s not bad for an otherwise dull Saturday afternoon.  Our waitress this time was very nice and professional.  She knew her beers; thanked Bill for his service; and invited us to sit in her section next time.

I’m thinking I need a Beer Goddess t-shirt now.

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Comfort, Texas…

One of Bill’s old friends from high school is married to an artist.  She was showing her work at the Hill Country Art Festival, which was partly going on at Singing Water Vineyards in Comfort, Texas.  I kind of had to talk Bill into it… but that’s never really hard.  We ended up driving a little over an hour, through gorgeous Texas Hill Country, then got to the winery.

The trip to the winery was pretty amazing, with tight switchbacks that were reminiscent of Spain or Italy.  We actually got to the winery via Skyline Drive, which is apparently a very scenic but not particularly well traveled way because of the hills and tight turns.

A view of the vineyards.

Another view of Singing Water Vineyards…

Walking toward the tasting room…

Singing Water Vineyards is very military friendly.  They even gave us a discount...

Tasting…

They had a cool chandelier made of wine bottles…

On the way to the gardens, where all the art was…

 

After we tasted wine and bought a couple of bottles, we went to Bending Branch Winery, which is very close… We spent a good hour or so there…

Beautiful surroundings…

Mr. Bill studies the wine menu…

Bill gets verklempt drinking a very nice blend…

Chloe… $75 for the bottle and well worth the money…

We tasted both of these wines and several others…

Bending Branch Winery has a nice patio area…

There was live music…

I could spend some serious time and money here…

And so could many others…

 

We ended up buying four bottles of wine and joining their wine club, which means we’ll get deals, six bottles of wine for $215, and access to special bottles of wine…

Incidentally, Comfort looked like a great place to hang out.  Lots of antiques, B&Bs and wineries…  Might have to do a long weekend out there in Hill Country.

At one point, Bill got emotional because the weather was amazing and he was having a great time… and he wasn’t in church or dealing with his ex wife guilting him for enjoying himself.  When we got home, we let the dogs out and I took a quick dip in the pool (it’s actually a little chilly for the pool) and Bill made me a margarita.  Yesterday, on the way to Lockhart, we passed Three Dudes Winery…   We will have to stop there next time we go to Lockhart.

Texas could end up being the right place for us after all…

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Lockhart, Texas…

Today, Bill and I were invited to my cousin’s wife’s birthday party in Lockhart, Texas.  Lockhart reminds me a bit of Sanford, North Carolina, the city where we lived before we moved to Texas.  It’s actually cuter than Sanford, though… with a nice row of mansions in town and some very interesting old buildings.  I was glad to see them, since we now live in the land of box stores and chain restaurants.

This particular cousin and I hadn’t spent much time together because he and his wife have always lived in Texas and had five kids, now all grown and thoroughly awesome people.  Texas is not close to Virginia, which is where I spent most of my life.  So I didn’t get to see them much as I was growing up and they were raising their family.  In fact, I think I saw them all for the first time in 2000… and it was the first time in many years since I’d seen my cousin Andy.  Since then, I’ve seen them sporadically, but now that we live in Texas, we could become closer.

Lockhart is on the way to Austin, about an hour from San Antonio…  It’s a really cute town.

On the way into downtown Lockhart…

Very cool old building…

Another shot as we passed…

Castle?

It was my cousin’s wife’s 50th… This is their son holding up the pinata.  No, he didn’t hold it as the birthday girl swung at it.

 

We have been invited back for a baby shower in a couple of weeks, so I’ll get a few more shots next time.  We had a great time visiting with my family, though… and their very nice friends and all the sweet dogs in attendance, too.  Next time, we will have to bring Zane and Arran.

Probably the funniest part of the evening was when my cousin’s daughter, Sandra, introduced me as her dad’s cousin.  I laughed and said, “I’m YOUR cousin too, you know!”

I wish I had gotten more photos.  It was quite the blast.

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beer, restaurant reviews, San Antonio, Texas

Freetail Brewing…

Bill and I decided to go on an outing yesterday and had lunch at Freetail Brewing Company just off the 1604 Loop.  The Loop has an official name, but most people refer to it as 1604.  Bill had pointed this place out to me a few times and I had heard from other beer lovers that it was a good place to go for fresh beer.

The entrance… 

Impressive looking patio that is dog friendly.  We saw lots of folks with their four legged friends dining out there…  One guy brought a gorgeous Irish Wolfhound.

Bill decides what beer he prefers.

The dining room from our vantage point.  We got there before the game time rush!

The bar area…

Bill had a Cuban sandwich and I had macaroni and cheese with bacon on top…

I managed about a third of this before I asked for a box.  It’s not the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had, but it was pretty good…

Interesting sign.  

The bar area…

 

The first round… I had a Chile Limon Wit Beer while Bill had an IPA of some sort…

Chile Fumando… spicy and smokey

Rye Wit

 

After a pleasant lunch, we left the Freetail Brewing Company.  The dining room had filled up with folks who wanted to watch Texas A&M play Alabama.  I don’t give a damn about sports, but it was entertaining to listen to them cheer every time the Aggies did something awesome.

 

I wasn’t quite ready to go home, but I did end up needing to pee.  We stopped at a gas station, where I spotted this sign.  My sister used to make Whoopie Pies when I was a little kid, so I got a kick out of this.  I ought to send her this picture…

We ended up driving about Boerne, Texas.  Bill and I had looked at a house there and were really tempted to move there, but it turns out it really is pretty far away from San Antonio.  It would have tripled his commuting time to work.  Maybe when he retires, we can look into moving up there.  I do like Boerne better than Converse.

All this Texas stuff makes me want to travel something fierce, though… I’m ready to plan a new trip.

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cruises, Hebridean Island Cruises, Scotland

Hebridean Princess… a good bet for those who want to avoid kids…

I posted the following review on Epinions.com back in December of last year.  I decided to repost it here because I didn’t have this blog when I wrote the review and there are some cruisers who are looking for a line that is less kid populated.  Lately SeaDream Yacht Club’s cruises are becoming more popular with people who want to bring their young kids.  Since SeaDream’s ships are so small and not set up with activities for kids, this is a problem for a lot of folks.

I think Hebridean Princess is a good bet if you want to avoid cruises that are highly populated with children.  Our last SeaDream cruise was kid free, but if we had spent $10,000+ for a trip that billed itself as adult oriented, I would be very upset.

I made the above video…

These are videos I made of the gala dinners…

Hell yes, I took and enjoyed a November cruise in Scotland!

Dec 2, 2012 (Updated Aug 26, 2013)

Rated a Very Helpful Review by the Epinions community

Pros:Truly all inclusive.  Amazing staff.  Comfortable cabins, good food, and plenty to do and see.

Cons:Caters to an older crowd. Expensive. Limited itineraries.  No spa. Not for kids.

The Bottom Line:I will never forget my time on Hebridean Princess.  You really can enjoy Scotland in November!

Warning: This is going to be a very long and comprehensive review.  If you have a short attention span, you might want to move on now!Still with me?  Good.  I want to share a well-kept secret with my fellow Americans.

If you read my review of the Carlton George Hotel, you know that my husband, Bill, and I just got home from a long trip to Scotland.  This trip has been a long time in the making.  I wanted to do something extra special to celebrate our tenth anniversary and get to know Scotland, a place that figures prominently in my heritage.  When Bill and I got married on November 16, 2002, I walked down the aisle to the beautiful tune “Highland Cathedral”, sort of an unofficial Scottish anthem that was composed in 1985 by a couple of Germans, who no doubt appreciated the country’s great beauty and character.  On a trip to Maine in June 2011, Bill and I heard a bagpiper playing “Highland Cathedral” on a street corner.  I took it as a sign we had to go to Scotland for the big tenth anniversary celebration.

And by now, you might be thinking… “Why the hell would anyone go to Scotland for a vacation in NOVEMBER?”  Well, besides the fact that our anniversary is in November, I had also decided that I wanted to take a cruise on very tiny MV Hebridean Princess, an all-inclusive ship I first read about in an article on Cruise Critic.

Bill and I aren’t really big cruisers yet.  Counting the two five night back to back cruises we just took on Hebridean Princess, we have only been on five cruises.  Before we boarded Princess, we were devout fans of SeaDream Yacht Club, an all inclusive luxury line that has only two ships that carry no more than 112 passengers each.  We have been on two SeaDream cruises so far with another planned for May of 2013, but given my fascination with Scotland and the fact that SeaDream doesn’t sail there, I decided to “cheat” on SeaDream with Hebridean Princess.  Bill and I are both glad we gave in to temptation.

Hebridean’s history

Tiny Hebridean Princess started out humbly enough.  Originally, she was a car ferry and mail ship.  Built in 1964 and operated by David MacBrayne Ltd., the Princess was originally named RMS and then Columba, before she was purchased by Hebridean Island Cruises in 1988.  The ship was completely madeover into a luxury cruise vessel in 1989.  At first, she retained her ability to ferry cars, but was refitted again a couple of years later to add more staterooms and crew capacity.  Though the original Hebridean Island Cruises outfit eventually changed hands a couple of times and the Princess is now owned by the British firm All Leisure Group, she retains her elegant charm.  Indeed, she has carried Queen Elizabeth II and her entourage twice– once for the Queen’s 80th birthday in 2006, and once for a family holiday in 2010.

I figured that if Hebridean Princess was good enough for the Queen of England, she was good enough for me, even though I’d heard the Queen was not necessarily a benchmark for luxury!  Indeed, while we were on the ship, we heard that the Princess was pretty posh compared to the Queen’s decommissioned ship Britannia, which is now a museum in Edinburgh.  A framed and autographed photo of the Queen and Prince Phillip hangs at the reception desk on the Princess and she was dedicated by none other than Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, in 1989.

Our cruises

Originally, I planned to just do the Castles of Argyll and Bute cruise running from November 17-22.  Bill and I usually schedule land vacations around our cruise vacations anyway and the Castles of Argyll and Bute cruise was closest to our actual anniversary date.  But then I realized that the cruise would end just in time for Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel times of the year.  I was also mistakenly under the impression that Thanksgiving was a week later than it actually was in 2012.  Anyway, when I realized that Hebridean Island Cruises would give me a tiny (5%) discount on the second cruise if we did a back to back, I talked Bill into adding the last cruise of the season, Treasures of Kintyre, to our itinerary.

We booked one of the cheapest cabins; the fare for each cruise including port fees and taxes was approximately $1960 per person.  All told, including the discount, we paid about $7400 for our ten nights aboard.  That may seem like a lot of money, and it is; but it’s actually an excellent deal for the length of time we were on Hebridean Princess.  Some of her one week summer cruises cost several times that amount!  If you want a deal, look into early spring or late fall sailings which are definitely the least expensive!

Our cruises would both sail out of Greenock, which is not Hebridean Princess’s usual port.  The Princess usually sails out of Oban, which is further north.  Greenock is about 45 minutes from Glasgow and Hebridean does arrange coach transportation to the ship from either the airport or the train station.  A one way ticket for both Bill and me ran $80.

All inclusive really means all inclusive

Bill and I were acquainted with “all inclusive” luxury cruising, having sailed twice with SeaDream Yacht Club.  Basically, it often means that there’s no tipping expected and most beverages, including alcoholic ones, are included in the price of the cruise.

However, when Hebridean Island Cruises says it’s all inclusive, it really means it’s all inclusive.  Almost everything is included in the price.  The published fares are the total fares.  There are no extra port charges, taxes, or fuel fees added.  The price you see is the price you pay, period.  We were not even asked for a credit card when we boarded the Princess.  Is it possible to spend money onboard?  Yes, it is.  There is a small shop and there are a few higher cost beverages and wines that are extra if you want them.  But you can easily get on this ship and not spend an extra dime.  And after ten nights onboard, Bill and I did not spend any money except for when we purchased a few souvenirs during excursions.

Embarkation

The weather was pretty nasty when we were collected at the Glasgow Train Station.  We made a quick stop at the airport to pick up a few more passengers and were given lanyards to wear around our necks for when we were embarking and on excursions.

On the first cruise, our guide was Andrea, a young looking woman– okay, young being very subjective, since most of the folks on our cruise were elderly Britons– who gave us a brief history of Glasgow and the Clyde that helped make it a great city.  I was happy to listen to her speak, especially when she informed us that most of the movie Braveheart, was utterly made up rubbish.  But, she admitted, it was a very entertaining film that brought a lot of folks to Scotland, so it wasn’t all bad.

When we arrived at the port, we heard the sound of a bagpiper.  Indeed, a chilly looking teenaged lad in a kilt was piping passengers aboard the ship, cabin by cabin.  I had to give him credit, since I know he was cold!  Once we were aboard, a staff member showed us to our low priced digs on the lowest deck.  It was a long way down to the waterline, but though our stateroom had no windows, it was quite pleasant.  We had a king sized bed which was surprisingly comfortable.  A small decanter of whisky sat on the counter next to a flat screen television.  A stocked mini fridge included water, soft drinks, fresh milk (for the impressive tea and coffee set up), and orange juice.  The bathroom had a thermostatic shower and was stocked with large bottles of Molton Brown toiletries.  There was a heated towel rack, bathrobes, and some of the thickest, most luxurious white towels I’ve ever seen.

The cabins on the Princess each have names.  Ours was called Loch Torridon.  No cabin door is lockable, except from the inside.  However, there is a safe in the stateroom for those who have valuables they want to lock up.  After we unpacked our luggage, the stewards stored our bags for us.  We had plenty of places to put our clothes, including drawers and closet space.

The other passengers

The Princess has several single cabins and actually caters to single travelers.  I noticed there were quite a few single elderly women aboard, though one of the first passengers we met was a man who had fought in World War II and still had plenty of stories to share with us young whippersnappers.  At age 40, I was the youngest person on the first cruise by about eight years!  And Bill and I were the only Americans on that cruise; there were two German couples and everyone else was either from England, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.  Children under age nine are not welcome on the Princess and, in fact, I highly doubt most kids would enjoy these very adult oriented cruises.

Once we were unpacked, we headed up to the Tiree Lounge for the welcome cocktail party.  Since it was the first night, most people were dressed informally.  On most other nights, most passengers dress nicely for dinner.  On the last night of each of our two cruises, there were galas.  We saw lots of people in tuxedoes, cocktail dresses, and kilts.  Bill wore his Army dress blue uniform, which was a HUGE hit on both cruises.  He really turned heads and stirred conversation with his sexy uniform.  And I have to admit, I love a man in uniform, too…

Food

Food on the Princess is an elegant affair, distinctly British in flavor.  Every morning, there was a special dish, as well as eggs, breakfast meats, toasts, and scones available.  If you want porridge with a wee dram or kippers, you’re also in luck.  Lunch consisted of three courses; one could have a sandwich and soup or a cooked entree.  One day on both cruises, there was a cold salmon buffet which was absolutely delightful!  A wine steward circulates and pours red and white wines freely.  It was during lunches on the Princess that I became reacquainted with foods I had almost forgotten about after having lived in England as a small child.  I also learned what Eton Mess is.

Dinners are similarly elegant affairs, three or four courses, depending on if you want a cheese course after your dessert.  There were two choices for each course at both lunch and dinner.  I tend to be somewhat picky, but only on a couple of occasions did I not like either option that much.  There was plenty to eat and the food was mostly very well-prepared.  Each day in the late afternoon, there would also be sandwiches and cookies set out for tea, which one could enjoy with tea or coffee, a cocktail, whisky, or beer or wine.  There was no skimping on the bubbly, either.  Real champagne flowed freely.

Excursions

All excursions on the Hebridean Princess are included, unless you decide there is something else you want to do.  Moreover, fishing and small boating trips can also be arranged, or you can borrow one of the ship’s bikes, though I didn’t notice anyone doing that on either of our cruises.

We were pretty lucky in that over the course of our back to back cruises, we were supposed to overlap on a couple of places.  But because of the weather and some last minute itinerary changes, only one pair of excursions was a re-run.  And on that day, when everyone else was headed to Kelburn Castle, which we had seen on the first cruise, we simply walked around the nearest city instead.

We did have bad weather on one day that made it impossible for us to get off the boat.  That was a disappointment, but the staff on the Princess was ready to take care of everyone.  There was a bridge tour, an engine room tour, and a whisky tasting.  Several folks also got together to play bridge.  Jigsaw puzzles and board games are also available, as are movies and books.  You can even watch regular TV if you want to, since the ship is not far from shore.  Wi-Fi is free, though it’s pretty unreliable.  And if all else fails, the captain will cruise the lochs, allowing passengers to see spectacular scenery… spectacular, even when it’s raining outside!

Remember, I said that on the Princess, all inclusive truly means all inclusive.  That includes trips to coffee shops.  On every excursion, there was coffee, tea, and cake made available, either pre-arranged at cafes or hotels or prepared by the ship.  When we stopped at privately owned Sanda Island which is mostly inhabited by sheep and seals, we were greeted with coffee, tea, cookies, and whisky after our hike!  And when we visited the men’s room in Rothesay (which is special because of its Victorian styling), our guide even paid the 20 pence fees for the passengers.  In fact, all entry fees to all excursions are included as well.

Turn around day

There was one other lady on our first cruise who was staying aboard for the last cruise of the season.  The chief purser approached Bill and me and asked what we planned to do on Thursday, as everyone was leaving the ship.  I told him I planned to find a laundrette and wash underwear!  He said, “No worries.  We can take care of that for you.”  Then he suggested that Bill and I, along with the other lady, an adorable elderly woman named Audrey who could outwalk both of us, go to Glasgow to visit the Burrell Collection.  The purser arranged for and paid for a taxi for us, then told us to bring him our receipts from lunch, which the ship would also reimburse us for.  The purser made a point of telling me to order whatever I wanted, too.  When has that EVER happened on a mainstream ship?  By the way, we were not charged for the laundry service, either.

The second cruise

I have to admit that while I think I liked the passenger mix on the first cruise better, I enjoyed the second cruise more.  I liked the itinerary better, as it took us to the gorgeous island of Arran.  We had much better weather.  And the guide and purser changed for this journey as well.

Let me just say that I enjoyed almost every staff member I ran into, but I’m really glad we were around to meet the purser on the second cruise, David Indge.  He is truly a people person and has a way of making everyone feel special.  I never detected any insincerity from him.  He was warm, funny, and truly a delight.  I heard that the Queen also liked him on her first Hebridean cruise and specifically asked for his services on her second cruise as well.

I also liked our second guide, Hugh, a vibrant Scotsman who looked like he really knew all the best places to hike.  He was friendly and engaging and we really enjoyed meeting him.

Captain Richard Heaton is newly appointed, but a consummate professional.  He was very approachable and friendly, not to mention quite the hottie.

Haggis?

Yes, there is haggis.  Yes, I did try it.  And yes, I did live to tell the tale with the help of a double whisky.

Places we visited…

Here’s a list of the places we visited on our cruises, some of which opened just for us.

Castles of Argyll and Bute– Ardgowan House, Mount Stuart House (amazing), Kelburn Castle, Rothesay– the town and the ruined castle, Benmore Botanical Garden, Holy Loch, Lochranza and Arran Distillery.

Treasures of Kintyre– Campbeltown and Springbank Distillery, Sanda Island (we saw baby seals!), Largs (Kelburn Castle for those who hadn’t seen it), Tighnabruaich, Isle of Arran, Arran Cheese Shop and Aromatics, Benmore Botanical Garden (I would have liked to have seen more of this amazing place, but skinned my knees), Tarbert Castle ruins

The last night

Bill and I thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Princess.  However , a small series of personal disasters made the last night of our cruise go badly.  First, we went back to the botanical gardens, which Bill and I had hiked during the first cruise.  I was excited, because it’s a beautiful place and I wanted to explore more.  But I lost my footing and took a fall, which resulted in two skinned and bloody knees.

When we got back to the ship, there were urgent emails from the kennel where our dogs were boarded.  Our older dog, MacGregor, had what we thought was disc disease.  We had him on Prednisone and were weaning him from the drug when he apparently took a turn for the worse and had to visit our vet.  The vet claimed that he had discovered a tumor on his cervical spine and the person running the kennel advised us to have our dog put down immediately (which we didn’t do).  Bill called the vet using his cellphone while we were still on the ship.  As it turns out, MacGregor is still with us and not as bad off as he seemed.  But that’s another long story which I’ll get to eventually.

Because of the distressing news about MacGregor, I had trouble enjoying dinner and eventually lost it.  Then I started my period unexpectedly and wasn’t prepared.  Fortunately, the amazing staff on the Princess came through again and found me the necessary items to get me through the night.  I doubt this is a problem they run into often, though, given the average age of the passengers!

Disembarkation

This was a simple and organized affair.  We put tags on our bags letting staff know where we were going.  They were offloaded from the ship for us.  As we left the ship, we shook the captain’s hand and Dave the purser gave me a hug and a kiss.  I left with an excellent impression.

On to Edinburgh…

Bill and I had plans to go to Edinburgh for four nights.  We were thinking of trying to take the train, but ended up hiring a taxi which David, Hebridean’s purser, arranged for us at a slight discount.  The excellent cabbie took great care of us for 120 pounds plus a ten quid tip.

Things to know…

* We had no bill at the end of our cruise

* The ship’s officers are mostly British or Irish.  The rest of the staff mostly hails from Latvia and Lithuania.

* There is no spa, pool, or hot tub, but the showers (and bathtubs in some cabins) have plenty of hot water.

* There is no casino, but there is a nice library.

* There was no live entertainment on our cruise, but I’m told that sometimes the ship brings on local entertainers or speakers.

* Most passengers are well-heeled and well-traveled Britons, but just about everyone is active in mind and body.

* There is no doctor on the ship, but you will rarely be more than a mile from the coast and medical care can be arranged quickly.  This ship is best suited for people who are able-bodied or can bring along someone who can help them get around.  There is no elevator and most of the doors are narrow and have “lips” on the floor that make them inconducive to wheelchairs.

* The ship doesn’t encourage passengers to use the laundry but will wash clothes in an emergency.

* We tendered at some ports, which involved riding in a small boat.  Everyone must wear a lifejacket.  When you leave the ship, you carry a small brass tag with the name of your cabin on it.  It’s important to always remember to take the tag (and they will remind you incessantly), because that’s how they can tell who is on or off the ship.  If you leave the tag on the ship, you run the risk of being left behind.

* I did not get seasick once.

* There is a very small gym that consists of a treadmill and some weights.  You will likely get plenty of walking exercise, though.

* If you go on this cruise and you are American, it’s likely you will be the minority.  There was only one other American couple on our second cruise, also in their forties.  We felt very welcome on the ship, though, and most everyone we talked to was a delight!

Overall

Despite the unpleasant business with MacGregor, I don’t regret one minute of our time in Scotland.  I especially don’t regret our time on Hebridean Princess.  If you’ve always wanted to see Scotland and like hanging out with sharp witted and friendly Brits, I highly recommend checking out this line.  As much as I love SeaDream and look forward to our May trip, I have to admit in many ways, our experiences on the Princess matched or even surpassed our experiences on SeaDream, though it is a very different kind of cruise and caters to an older crowd.

For more information: http://www.hebrideancruises.us

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Not going to Virginia…

I broke the news to my mom last night that we won’t be coming to Virginia for Thanksgiving.  There are a lot of reasons why I didn’t want to go, but the main reason we’re not going is because it would cost and arm and a leg to fly there.  Last time I checked tickets to Virginia in November, they were over $1400 for both Bill and me.  That’s not much less than what we paid to fly to Scotland last year.

$1400 is a lot to spend on a trip that probably wouldn’t be that much fun.  We’d also have to board the dogs, pay for parking, and rent a car, which would be more expenses that would probably bump the cost up to $2000 or more.  And flying during the holiday season is even more stressful than usual.

I think my mom was disappointed, but she was understanding.  I think she was also expecting me to say we weren’t coming.  I told her that maybe in the spring, we could go to Virginia for a visit.  We’re still trying to figure out how much it costs to live here.

Bill has to go to Miami next week.  I will be home alone, dealing with the crown preparation I have to have done.

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