Basel to Crystal Debussy

After enjoying our last delicious breakfast at Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois, we gathered our belongings to begin our 6-hour journey to Dusseldorf. We exited the hotel and to our surprise, there was a full-sized motor coach for the 10 of us! I was expecting a large mini-bus like we had the previous days, so I was quite surprised. Our spacious ride was very comfortable and gave us all plenty of room to spread out.


We had an excellent driver, Nicholai, who managed to take us around a huge traffic jam along the way. We made a 45 minute stop for lunch in Heidelberg. We found this college town to be full of great energy and we hope we have the opportunity to visit again down the road.


While we were at lunch, I heard from one of my clients who had already boarded the ship. Crystal had just released some of the shore excursions for our new ports of call. She sent me photos of the list, which I then texted to the others in my group. While driving on to Dusseldorf, I collected everyone’s wish list and then sent them to be reserved. Having a client already onboard helped simplify the task. I was very grateful!

We arrived in Düsseldorf just before 5:30 p.m. We boarded Crystal Debussy, unpacked, and settled in for the week ahead. Our cabin was nicely appointed with a walk-in closet and double-sink vanity in the bathroom. The room decor was contemporary with colors that evoked luxury. We were very comfortable for the week!


My first dinner onboard didn’t meet my high expectations. Given the change in itinerary, I wasn’t terribly surprised, since Crystal sources local ingredients and the ship was in an unexpected location. I remained hopeful that meals would improve.

Dinners on a river cruise are an evening event, typically taking two hours. Once finished, we walked the ship to view the public areas. By this time we were quite tired and decided to turn in for the night.




I awoke to notification of yet another itinerary change. Our upcoming river cruise was now starting in Düsseldorf and our ship could no longer get to Andernach, as the water level continued to decrease. Our new itinerary was now completely different, aside from ending in Amsterdam. Now instead of a 3.5 hour drive to the ship, our drive would take about 6 hours. I scrambled to adjust the starting time for our departure the next day, and asked the concierge to recommend a city that would make for a good lunch stop along the way. Thankfully, all the travelers in my group understood that Mother Nature is unpredictable and they were ready to go with the flow (no pun intended). I always stress to my clients that book a river cruise to be fully prepared for changes due to the river being too high or too low. Changes are not common, however they are also not rare.

Once I had the new plan in place, I was able to enjoy a lovely hotel breakfast.


Before heading out to further explore the city, I took the opportunity to learn more about this beautiful and iconic hotel during a site inspection.


Today was the first (and only) unstructured day of our vacation, and we welcomed the opportunity to walk the city at a leisurely pace, exploring both sides of the river.


Highlights of our day were the best soft pretzels ever, more roasted chestnuts, visiting a gourmet food market, cocktails on our balcony overlooking the river, and what I thought was the most delicious dinner of our trip and a nearby Italian restaurant. Sprinkled throughout the day were charming views and interesting sights. It was a fantastic day and I look forward to visiting Basel again in the future!


Lucerne to Basel

This morning, we were reunited with our guide Rebecca along with a driver for our transfer to Basel. The drive between the cities was two hours, but we broke it up with a stop for wine tasting at a small winery in a town called Semach. We were greeted by Peat, the president of the vineyard. He first showed us the Church of Mary that was located on site, then hosted an intimate tasting at the edge of the vineyard. It was very nice to have this diversion in our day that showed us another side of the region.


We continued on to Basel and checked into our hotel The Grand Les Trois Rios. Then, Rebecca led us on another lovely walking tour to get us acquainted with the city.


After our walk, our group (now of 10) met in the hotel lobby. After cocktails, we walked 20 minutes to a restaurant recommended by the concierge. If you’re in an unfamiliar place and not sure where to go, this is a great (and often underutilized) source of information.

After an enjoyable meal, we decided to take the tram back to the hotel and settled in for a restful night. We really enjoyed our stay at Les Trois Rios. The staff was warm and welcoming, the rooms were charming with river views, and the location was absolutely perfect! All in all, it felt like home away from home.



Today was our only full day in Lucerne and the first day of our trip where we truly felt accustomed to the time zone. After an early breakfast, we were met at our hotel by our private guide, Rebecca. She walked us through the Old Town and shared the history of Lucerne from as early as 1291 and how it was an important trade city between Italy and Germany 150 years ago.


Rebecca shared other facts and a few stories along the way. We learned there are 247 fountains in the city with pure spring water (we even enjoyed a taste!) and that the lock tower rings one minute before all the other clocks, as if to give permission.


Rebecca ended our walking tour at the boat dock, were we boarded for a three-hour ride to Brunner for a visit to Swiss Knife Valley, where we learned the history of Victorinox and were each able to assemble our own Swiss Army Knife! It was very interesting to use the machinery and follow the pre-set assembly steps. Each knife had 8 standard tools. We were then able to customize with either a corkscrew or Phillip’s head screwdriver. Brunner was a very quiet town, off the beaten track, and provided the opportunity to experience another side of Switzerland.


We returned by train, which took only an hour. Our last evening in Lucerne was very relaxing and enjoyable. We started with wine in the lobby and ended with a delicious dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant. This vacation was off to a very nice start!

Zurich to Lucerne

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Our first official vacation day began with a delicious hotel breakfast and a nice walk by Lake Zurich, both signifying the freedom to indulge in enjoying each moment in time at a relaxing pace.


At this point, we were a group of eight that would spend the next couple days together in Lucerne. Our drive from Zurich to Lucerne went by quickly. We stopped at the special Lion Monument before checking into our next hotel, The Schweizerhof. This historic property had some unique contrasts. The entrance was classic, however the rooms seemed quite modern. The rooms were spacious, however the shower was extremely small. Comfortable enough for just a two-night stay.


After lunch we enjoyed a private experience at a chocolate factory. There were two things that made this experience particularly unique. The first is how the shop is run. The store owner's son, Max, has Down Syndrome and the owners have chosen to operate the store as if Max is the boss with everything including the name: Max Chocolatier. The second unique aspect was the opportunity to make our own personal chocolate bars. We had the choice between dark or light chocolate along with toppings. I went with dark chocolate and topped my bar with cocoa nibs and salt. So fun and delicious!

The remainder of the day included strolling through a street carnival, snacking on roasted chestnuts (my favorite!), cocktails at a rooftop bar filled with locals, and dinner. It was a nice day of exploring, followed by beautiful nighttime views!


Heathrow to Zurich

Favorable tail winds brought us into Heathrow early, requiring a short wait for our gate to become available. We deplaned and spent approximately 30 minutes going through security, where two of our travel companions were waiting for us to arrive. We all enjoyed a nice meal, relaxed in the lounge, then went through the process to board our flight to Zurich. After being on a Dreamliner for our first flight, the A320 felt so small and cramped!


Our arrival into Zurich was beautiful as we descended upon green rolling hills and charming homes in the vicinity. It took only 20 minutes to go through the passport check and gather our luggage. Our private transfer was waiting for us and the 30 minute ride to our hotel was quite comfortable. There was no doubt we were finally in Switzerland when we noticed the Ricola in the van along with the complimentary waters!

By the time we arrived and checked in at the Hotel Ambassador a l'Opera, it was time for dinner. We took a 20 minute walk to the oldest Vegetarian restaurant in Europe. Service was cafeteria style, with plenty of options for all. Perfect after a long 17 hours of travel! We strolled back to the hotel and found Zurich to be very clean and absolutely lovely at night.


The Hotel Ambassador a l'Opera, was a lovely quaint room for just one night. The bed was quite comfortable and the bathroom manageable for a short stay. You can see from the photos below, the shower door opened and closed inward and required a bit of maneuvering to get inside.


The elevator was extremely rickety, slow, and claustrophobic. For this reason, I elected to take the stairs after the first ride. If I were to come back for a longer stay, this likely wouldn’t be my first choice. This said, the hotel definitely provided a sense of Swiss charm.

We turned in early and were ready for our long-awaited vacation to begin!

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Departure Day

Our trip began with an evening flight from LAX. We relaxed in an uncrowded British Airways lounge before departure. Our first flight was a long-haul to London Heathrow on a 787 Dreamliner. I had previously flown the Dreamliner in Business Class on United and American and found British Airways’ version to have less storage space and less privacy.


The seats alternated facing forwards and backwards, and if you had a window seat, which I initially selected, you would need to climb over the legs of the passenger in the row behind if they were lying flat in order to use the restroom. There were two seats on each side of the plane, and three seats in the center. I moved to an open aisle seat in the center section, so I flew across from Jeff and was not facing backwards. Due to the layout of the seats, screens had to be put away during take off and landing. We had an on-time departure and our cabin crew provided excellent service as we traveled through the night.




The first three steps of travel occur before arriving to a destination. They are planning, packing and departure. Planning for the trip can take quite a while. My upcoming river cruise (sailing from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam) was actually two years in the planning stage. We would spend five nights in Switzerland Pre-cruise, then sail for one week, then end with two additional nights in Amsterdam. Eight of my group members would be together for this full schedule, and six additional travelers would join us when we reached Basel. Every piece of the puzzle was perfect!

I began packing just two days prior to departure, and in the midst I received an email from Crystal Cruises telling me the Rhine was low and my ship, Crystal Debussy, could not reach Basel. Our ship would now depart from Andernach, Germany and Crystal was asking for passengers to switch their flights to arrive into Frankfurt instead of Basel or to take a short flight from Basel to Frankfurt. Crystal offered a reimbursement credit up to a set amount for the adjustment. At this point, two couples were already elsewhere in Europe and decided to fly into Frankfurt instead of Basel. The remaining ten of us where looking forward to our time in Basel.

I quickly pulled up my map and determined that Andernach was only a 3.5 hour drive from Basel, which was about the same time it would take to get to Frankfurt, taking the waiting time at the airport into consideration. After consulting with my fellow travelers (the remaining ten), we all agreed we would prefer to drive to Andernach, seeing the countryside and stopping for a nice lunch along the way. It was now Friday night and eight of us were leaving on Sunday, so I needed to act fast to make a change! After contacting Crystal for approval to transfer by land instead of air, I quickly messaged my in-Switzerland contacts to assist with this new necessary arrangement.

Rule number one when traveling by river cruise: Flexibility is the key! Do not let unexpected changes hamper your enjoyment! I am so extremely thankful that my travel companions know how to go with the flow (pun intended)!!

Alaska Cruise, Part 6

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska:

Our last cruise day was a Sea Day, which included a viewing of Hubbard Glacier. When we woke up that morning, we stepped out onto our veranda and found an incredible view with glassy water and sunny blue sky with a slight overcast... the absolute best Glacier viewing weather! As our ship approached Hubbard Glacier, we could hear the calving in the distance. It's moments like these that make having a cabin with a veranda an absolute must!

After a relatively quick breakfast in Lido, we enjoyed viewing the Glacier from the bow of our ship. There are three glaciers in Alaska that are growing, Hubbard Glacier being one of those.  Our Captain wasn't able to get as close to the Glacier as I had been in the past, and I wished we could have stayed there longer. No doubt, I will be back again some day!

As we sailed away from the Glacier, I knew we had to make the most of our last day onboard. After our breakfast with a view, we headed back to our room. We wanted to get most of our packing done before lunch in order to enjoy a tour of the Galley, some casino play, and a show in the lounge all before dinner!

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Our last night couldn't have been any better. Jijo delivered the most incredible platter from Silk Road along with caviar, which we shared with our travel companions. Our evening ended in the Crystal Dining Room, sharing good conversations with our long time & new friends. The perfect ending to this perfect cruise!

Whittier, Alaska - Disembarkation:

We disembarked Crystal Serenity in Whittier where we would take a motor coach transfer to Anchorage. Though I had sailed on six previous Alaska cruises, this was my first time in Whittier. I learn something new every single time I travel, so I was soaking up the transfer process. Disembarkation with Crystal was very smooth. There were no crowds to battle, plenty of space on the motor coaches to spread out, and beautiful scenery surrounding us. The road from Whittier to Anchorage includes the longest tunnel in North America. Not only is it 2.5 miles long, it is also a one-way tunnel with cars and trains passing through separately. The wait to enter can take up to an hour and motor coaches are allowed entry before cars. The busses are spaced out, with only 8 coaches allowed in the tunnel at one time. Inside the tunnel, there are 10 safe houses, just in case of emergency. The tunnel is only open for a certain time period, and there are doors at either end for when it is closed.

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Since our wait to enter the tunnel was going to be 30 minutes, our driver took us on a quick 5 minute tour of Whittier (the town is very small). The most interesting thing we saw was a woman walking her pet reindeer, something you don’t see everyday!

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After our 10 minute transit through the tunnel, we were rewarded with a ride through Turnagain Arm, which is rated one of the world’s most beautiful drives. Along the way, we were excited to glimpse a mamma moose with her two babies who were grazing along the side of the road. One last highlight to end this most memorable trip!

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My Cruise Summary:

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I have now sailed Alaska seven times, on six different ships, four different itineraries, and with four different cruise lines! I have sailed in June, July, August and September. I've experienced weather ranging from 50 degrees and raining to 90 degrees and sunny. Every Alaska cruise has been wonderful, but I can honestly say that this was the best of all! Perfect weather, good friends and the Crystal experience were the perfect combination!!

With Crystal we experienced no overcrowding, and no nickel and diming. In fact, we disembarked with only two charges on our stateroom account: our entry into the blackjack tournament and our future cruise deposit for 2019 (Mediterranean cruise anyone!?). Crystal provides a luxury experience without being snobby. Service was fantastic and the food was phenomenal. We were most impressed with our butler Jijo, who made us feel especially well taken care of throughout our cruise.


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There are so many reasons I love cruising! Being mostly off the grid, having interesting conversations with fellow passengers, and greeting new friends around the ship allows me to live in the moment. I get to unpack once and relax, not stressing the logistics of moving from place to place. Daily life at home is busy and full of responsibility. I wouldn't trade my life for anything, but once in awhile it's vital to step away, disconnect and recharge.

If my story has inspired you to visit Alaska, I’d be happy to help you plan your unique journey. Also, if you enjoyed this blog entry, please let me know in the comments below!

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Alaska Cruise, Part 5

Skagway, Alaska:

As I woke up the next morning in Skagway (our last port day), I was keenly aware that our cruise would soon come to an end. After our morning ritual of a delicious and relaxing breakfast at the Lido, we were off to Musher's Camp for our dog sledding adventure.

It took only minutes to pass through Skagway, past a narrow gauge railroad track, along the Klondike Highway and through Dyea, which used be a booming gold-rush town . As we drove along the Lynn Canal, we passed by streets such as Lois Lane and Ragged Ass Road. Gotta love that Alaskan humor!

Once we arrived at the base of the Musher’s Camp, we were taken by Unimog, which are giant all terrain vehicles used as everything from military vehicles to farming equipment. We went up a mountain, passing Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, and by a waterfall until we were deep within the Tongas Natonal forest. It is here, in the second largest rainforest in the world, that the dogs were harnessed and waiting for us.

The dogs in sled training were 1-3 years old and were raring to go. They were so excited to pull those sleds, which were actually wheeled golf-cart type vehicles that held 6 people.  Our ride was only one mile long, but it was very fun! We then made our way back down to the base camp where they had a store, a sled on display to educate us about the Iditarod, and best of all...PUPPIES!!! Three of the puppies were ten weeks old and they were in training via a puppy-sized-hamster-wheel.

So cute! Another group of puppies was eight weeks old and we even saw a pup who was only four days old. We all had a chance to hold a puppy or two and learned that this is a very important part of their socialization training. The more people that hold them the better!

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After our adventure, we stopped in town to do some last minute gift buying before heading back to the ship. It was a little bitter-sweet as I realized that this was the last time we would board our beautiful Crystal Serenity.

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After a relaxing foot & ankle massage, I watched our beautiful journey down the Lynn Canal, leaving Skagway behind. Dinner that evening was at Prego, Crystal’s fine Italian specialty restaurant. Our food was absolutely outstanding! After enjoying our main courses, my husband, Jeff, and I slipped out to make an appearance at the Captain’s reception in his quarters. We made it back to Prego just in time for dessert. The perfect ending to this incredible day was listening to our friend, Ira, sit in with the Crystal jazz band. Ira is a world-class trombonist who has played with artists such as Sir Paul McCartney, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, and Woody Herman just to name a few. No doubt, the best entertainment of the week!