Two Magical Days in Venice

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on Venice…

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

 

Review: US Airways Business Class (Envoy Suites) Philadelphia to 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


After a quick and uneventful, yet pleasant flight from Washington-National Airport, we arrived in Philadelphia with about two hours to spare until our scheduled departure time.  We were welcomed into the Terminal A US Airways Envoy Lounge where our passports were checked and we were issued two premium drink certificates apiece.  The lounge offered a great view of the evening European departures from Terminal A.

I felt it was a very solid lounge for a US domestic carrier – probably one of the better I’ve seen domestically.  Boarding for our flight to Venice was announced around 6pm, so we proceeded to the gate and arrived as some of the last passengers to board.

US Airways (US) 714
Philadelphia (PHL) – Venice (VCE)
Aircraft:  Airbus A330-200
Seat:  4F (Envoy Suites)
Tuesday, April 28, 2014
6:45PM – 09:15AM (+1 day)
Duration:  8:30

My initial impression of the business cabin was that it looked awfully spacious and nice with the wood paneling on the bulkheads and tables.  The US Airways A330-200 features only twenty business class seats (or “Envoy Suites”) as five rows in a a 1-2-1 configuration.  The reverse herringbone configuration of these seats is a scaled down version of the same seats used by Cathay Pacific in their international business cabins.  Though they lack some of the storage of the Cathay seats, these Envoy Suites are some of the most spacious and nicest business class seats one can fly across the Atlantic.  Certainly, they’re currently the best hard product on an US carrier (with the exception of the new American 777-300ER cabin, which are the same type seats as these Envoy Suites).   The 1-2-1 business cabin is quickly becoming the standard among airlines, and US Airways deserves some credit for being the first airline to introduce this seat a few years ago.  I had more than enough room to stretch out.  While fully flat, I was able to stretch out without hitting the wall of the foot well .  This is pretty spectacular since I’m 6’4”.

We were offered champagne as soon as we took our seats, as well as a newspaper, an amenity kit, and brand new Bose QC15 noise-canceling headphones.  I was quite impressed by the Bose headphones, as I’m used to a much inferior offering on United.   They featured American Airlines branding, so they’re on of the first signs of the integration of the two airlines.  Menus were distributed and orders were taken prior to departure.

About ten minutes after takeoff, the flight attendant delivered a vodka tonic with warm mixed nuts.

The starter featured a pesto shrimp dish, which was excellent.  The salad was quite small, and came on the same plate as the shrimp.

For the entree, I selected the panko-crusted tilapia with mashed potatoes and green beans.  The fish was  a much larger portion than I was expecting.  It was tasty enough, and the mashed potatoes were delicious.

I had the tiramisu AND the Ben & Jerry’s chocolate brownie  ice cream for desert – both of which were excellent.  My girlfriend ordered the cheese plate and enjoyed that.

 

Dinner was quite good overall.  It was not overly memorable, but was certainly adequate for a business class dinner.

After dinner, I attempted to finish a movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” but didn’t last more than ten minutes, as I fell asleep in the lay-flat bed.  For whatever reason, I didn’t sleep particularly well that night though the seat itself was quite comfortable.  I finally gave up trying after about four hours or so of on-and-off sleep.  Not too long after that, the flight attendants started preparing the cabin for breakfast – about 75 minutes prior to scheduled arrival into Venice, as we flew over Paris.  There was a choice of fruit and yogurt, or a mushroom and sausage quiche.  I opted for the fruit and yogurt while my girlfriend chose the quiche.  The fruit was fresh and tasty.  The quiche was excellent – easily one of the best egg dishes I’ve sampled on any flight.

After breakfast, I changed and prepared my things for landing.  We arrived into Venice about ten minutes ahead of schedule with a beautiful view of the city, the lagoon, and Murano our the starboard side of the airplane.

Overall, I was very impressed with US Airways.  I was expecting a very solid hard product, and that’s exactly what I got.  The Envoy Suite is an excellent choice for crossing the Atlantic, and it blows away most other US carriers’ offerings as far as comfort is concerned – namely United’s BusinessFirst products and American’s old business class.  Admittedly, I had somewhat low expectations for catering and service, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The flight attendants working the business class cabin were friendly enough and very efficient – not necessarily memorable, but they certainly provided good enough service.  The catering was overall quite good, and I enjoyed a change from the somewhat standard United BusinessFirst menu that I’m used to.

I certainly recommend the US Airways Envoy product, which is found onboard their Airbus A330 fleet.  I would choose it again if the choice was between US Airways and /or United.  At the end of the day, the 1-2-1 configuration is clearly the most comfortable business class configuration out there, and is one of the best business class options across the Atlantic.

How I booked it…

I was able to book this cabin using 50,000 American Airlines miles and $5 per person for the one-way North America to Europe award ticket.  Award availabilty for US Airways flights is easily available via the American Airlines website.  An added benefit of using American miles for flights on US Airways is that it presents a Transatlantic option that avoids London-Heathrow and the significant taxes associated with such a flight.  There are also no fuel surcharges on US Airways flights, as opposed to the hefty surcharges that exist when flying American’s other transatlantic partners British Airways and Iberia.

Back from Europe

After almost three weeks, I’m back from Europe!  Unfortunately, I was unable to provide regular updates on the blog due to the prohibitive expense and slowness of the Internet on our cruise ship.  As much as I wanted to get some blog posts out there, the $0.75 per minute cost just wasn’t going to happen.  Additionally, the slow speeds would have made posting pictures pretty much impossible.

Luckily, I did spend quite a bit of time during the trip chronicling my journey.  I have several posts already written — all I need to do is edit and add some pictures.  Hopefully I’ll get a few of those out this week.  I’ll leave this short note with a few teaser pics of US Airways Business Class, our Pinnacle Suite on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam, and the return trip in business class of Aer Lingus’ newly acquired 757.

US Airways Envoy, Aer Lingus Business Class, and the Pinnacle Suite on Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam

US Airways Envoy, Aer Lingus Business Class, and the Pinnacle Suite on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam

Stay tuned…

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland – Planning the Flights

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


When the Aunt and Uncle invited us on the cruise, it didn’t take too long to accept their invitation.  The good thing about this vacation is that the cruise itinerary is set… so right there, I didn’t need to worry about planning the bulk of the vacation.  The variables that I had to contend with were now arriving and departing Venice (VCE) around the cruise dates, vacation time, and finding air deals and/or redeeming miles.

Planning the flight USA to Italy

As soon as we accepted the invitation to take the cruise, I assessed my mileage balances on  various airlines.  At that time, my United balance was pretty much zero-ed out since I’d just burned a whopping 320,000 miles for a trip to Australia over Christmas and New Years.  However, I had just enough American miles for two, one-way flights from the USA to Europe in economy class for the girlfriend and me.  As luck would have it, there was availability flying economy on American for the dates that we wanted DCA-LGA/JFK-MXP.  This would put us into Milan(MXP) the day before our cruise.  We then planned to take a train Venice in time for our cruise.

US Airways Envoy Suite

US Airways Envoy Suite

Fast forward to two weeks ago.  As the months dragged on, I began to dread the long flight in economy on American.  My last two experiences on American in the back were not too pleasant, so I had reason to be concerned.  At 6’4″, I’m uncomfortable in pretty much any economy seat, but the B767-300s on American seem to be extra brutal and cramped.  Around that same time, my mileage bonus from the Citi AAdvantage Executive card posted, increasing my balance to a cool 120,000 miles.

Out of sheer curiosity, I checked the American website for business class availability — just in case.  Sure enough, there was availability on a flight directly into Venice, AND it arrived a day earlier, allowing us an extra day in Venice.  Upon further review, this entire flight was on US Airways from DCA-PHL-VCE in their Envoy Suites business class cabin.  This is the same basic hard business product that I enjoyed on Cathay Pacific last summer (here and here).   For an extra 30,000 miles per person, this seemed like a no-brainer.  The ability to stretch out and get some sleep on our flight, an extra day in Venice, and the fact that I prefer to burn my miles instead of hoarding them made it an easy move — we were going business class to Venice!

DCA-PHL-VCE on US Airways:  50K AA miles per person in Business Class

DCA-PHL-VCE on US Airways: 50K AA miles per person in Business Class

Getting Home After the Cruise

At the time I initially planned the cruise, I didn’t have a big point balance to work with, since I tend to burn my miles pretty soon after earning them, simply because airlines tend to devalue their programs as time goes by.   Knowing my point limitations, I knew that a sweet spot in the British Airways Avios award chart was Ireland to Boston on BA’s partner, Aer Lingus for only12,500 Avios per person in economy, or 25,000 per persons in business, each way.  This is an incredible value, and may be the single most valuable use of points in any program.  The existence of this award made it apparent that we needed to transit Ireland on the way home, so we decided to spend a few days in the Emerald Isle en route. My girlfriend and I are both Irish, after all!

SNN-BOS-DCA on Aer Lingus and US Airways:  12,500 BA Avios per person in Economy (25k in Business)  + $90 for the US Airways segment

SNN-BOS-DCA on Aer Lingus and US Airways: 12,500 BA Avios per person in Economy (25k in Business) + $90 for the US Airways segment

We decided that we wanted to spend a couple days in Dublin before driving across the country to Galway and the Aran Islands.  After a trip to the Inis Mor on Aer Aran Islands, we plan to visit Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher before ending our trip in Shannon.  After checking for availability and spending an hour on the phone with British Airways, we were able to book our return tickets at the aforementioned price point of only 12,500 per person in economy from Shannon to Boston.  At the end of the day, 25,000 total for TWO people to fly Transatlantic is a STEAL.  So return trip home, booked.

First, I needed to get to Ireland from Venice.

After a brief Internet search, it was immediately clear that European discount carrier, Ryanair was the way to go.  They offered a perfectly timed flight from Venice-Treviso Airport (TSF) to Dublin for under 50euros per person.  Even after we selected seats and paid for checked bags, this option was still about 100euro per person cheaper than the next cheapest option.  No brainer.

TSF-DUB on Ryanair for under 50euros per person

TSF-DUB on Ryanair for under 50euros per person

The last piece of the puzzle was getting from Boston to Washington at the end of the trip.   After monitoring for cheap rates via various methods, I noticed a cheap ($90 one-way) fare between Boston and Washington-National airport with perfect timings, so I pulled the trigger on that, and viola!  We had ourselves an itinerary!

Red:  US AIrways Yellow:  Ryanair Green:  Aer Lingus

The Whole Enchilada:  Red: US AIrways; Yellow: Ryanair; Green: Aer Lingus

 

 

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland – Introduction

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


A few months ago, I had a tentative trip to Europe planned over St. Patrick’s Day when my Aunt and Uncle invited my girlfriend and I to take a cruise with them in May.  Since vacation has become a somewhat limited commodity for me lately (I’ve burnt almost all my vacation time), I decided to nix the trip in March in favor of this cruise.

In my previous life, I worked for a major cruise line, and was borderline obsessed with cruises.  When I was young, my family typically took cruise vacations since it was just easy, everyone enjoyed it, and the family could have dinner together every night.  All these cruises added up, and now looking back, it’s pretty clear that I’ve taken an obscene amount of cruises — this will be my thirty-fourth cruise.  With that said, it’s been about two and a half years since my last one, so I guess I’m due for another one.

12-Day Mediterranean Empires cruise from Holland America Line

This particular cruise is on Holland America Line’s newest ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam.    Having sailed with Holland America on three previous occasions, I know to expect impeccable service, good food, a beautiful ship, and generally an older crowd.  The thing that popped out to me about this cruise was the great 12-night itinerary — out of the eight ports of call, I’ve only previously been to one — Istanbul.

I’ve always wanted to sample some of the Greek Islands, so this cruise will really allow me to do so!  Another cool thing about this particular itinerary is that it spends the night in both Istanbul and Venice at the tail end of the trip.  This is somewhat unusual for a cruise, and it’s an aspect that I really do like since it  allows us to sample some of the great nightlife in Istanbul,and to spend a relaxed final evening in Venice.  An added bonus is that I have a very generous Aunt and Uncle who invited us to stay in the Pinnacle Suite — the largest room on the ship.  I’ve never stayed in a suite on a cruise before, so this will be extra-special.

 

Pinnacle Suite Photo Credit:  Holland America Line

Pinnacle Suite
Photo Credit: Holland America Line

Tomorrow, we will depart Washington-National Airport for Venice via Philadelphia on US Airways in their Envoy Suites business class.  We will spend two days before the cruise in Venice, and will stay at the Boscolo Venezia, thanks to a low rate, and the use of some Marriott points.  Following the cruise, we decided to spend some time in Ireland before flying back to the States.  During our four days in Ireland, we plan to hit up Dublin, Galway, the Arann Islands, Cliffs of Mohr, and Shannon.  Since I am using British Airways Avios for our Trans-Atlantic segment on, I am exploiting one of the sweet-spots on their award chart by flying home from Ireland on Aer Lingus — in this case, Shannon to Boston.

Over the next couple weeks, I will be making a number of posts covering various aspects of this trip.  Of course, I’ll hit on US Airways Envoy Suites, the Boscolo Venezia, the cruise itself along with the ports of call, our experience on Ryanair from Treviso to Dublin, our Ireland Adventure, and the flight back to the States on Aer Lingus.   As Internet is limited on board (I’m not going to pay the absurd Internet charges on the ship), my blog posts will be somewhat intermittent over the next couple of weeks.  Here’s a pretty picture of our flights:

DCA-PHL-VCE, TSF-DUB, SNN-BOS-DCA    Red: US Airways; Yellow: Ryanair; Green: Aer Lingus

Stay tuned for a post on what it took to plan this trip, as well as several posts that will log our journey!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oktoberfest 2013 Trip – Frankfurt, Munich, London, and Edinburgh

Well, it’s that time of the year again — it’s time to head over to the happiest place on Earth — Oktoberfest!  This will be my fourth year in a row that I’ve attended the world’s largest festival, and every year it’s the highlight of my year!This year, I will be meeting eight friends in Munich for Oktoberfest, and then will be proceeding on to hit some other parts of Europe.  Tonight, I will be flying from Washington-Dulles to Frankfurt in United BusinessFirst.  I’ll be staying the day and night in Frankfurt, and will train down to Munich on Friday morning commence the Oktoberfest activities!   Once again, we will be staying at the Four Points Sheraton Munich Central — easily the best location in Munich for Oktoberfest, as it is only two blocks away from the front gate!

OktoberfestAfter three days of beer, brats, and dirndls, I will separate from the group and fly to London with a friend from grad school where we will stay for four days at the Waldorf Hilton.  Finally, we will train up to Edinburgh, Scotland for the last three days of the trip at the Glasshouse Autograph Collection.

Will anyone else be in Munich for Oktoberfest this coming weekend (Closing Weekend – October 4-7)?

I’d also love recommendations for things to do, places to see, and for restaurants, and bars in both London and Edinburgh!

I can’t wait to throw on the lederhosen and boots and get this thing started!