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What comes to mind when you think of the city of Vienna? Chocoholics will say “Sachertote.” Some will say wine and coffee culture. Musicians will loudly proclaim “Mozart!”
Bus tours and excursions will most certainly take you to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with the adjacent ritzy and über expensive shopping district. Little do most travelers realize that only steps away is the Mozarthaus (http://www.mozarthausvienna.at) located at Domgasse 5, the only surviving apartment inhabited by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, his wife and child.
This genius of the musical world, unparalleled before or after, lived in Vienna for ten years during his most productive period in his short life. The Mozarthaus is open to the public and is an interesting pilgrimage for those who are fascinated in the life and times of Mozart.
The building contains exhibits to help visitors understand Mozart and imagine him living in these very rooms. Costumes, coins, a piano, and other objects of daily life are on display. You’ll even see copies of musical scores in Mozart’s own hand.
To say Mozart was a poor money manager is an understatement. The exhibit contains a period gambling table like the ones Mozart may have used to toss away his earnings.
In these modest rooms, it is easy to imagine Mozart hurrying to his desk in order to jot down a musical idea. It is humbling to know that in these rooms Mozart died at the age of 35. He was later to be buried un an unmarked pauper’s grave, leaving behind his penniless wife Constanze and two young sons.
One of the highlights of the Mozarthaus experience for for me was a 3D opera set of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” (The Magic Flute, the first opera I ever attended) complete with a performance by Sarastro in hologram form!
Don’t miss this magical experience!
Just when you thought you’d been everywhere, welcome to a unique destination. I’ll be adding several activities for this port in the next while.
I’m in Corner Brook, Newfoundland (where? see map below). This is one cool place–very much a part of Canada and North America, yet totally its own vibe and culture. 20 cruise ships will stop here (list is not apparently updated) this season, including majors like Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America, Princess, etc. If you’re on one, here is a FANTASTIC zip line, Marble Zip Tours, you could book as a shore excursion. It includes 9 cables, and while I was there on a rainy day, it was still plenty fun. You can zip in many places around the world, and I always think it’s a super-fun shore excursion for the gay traveler who’s done everything.
In order to review this shore excursion, and as is customary in the travel journalism industry, I traveled courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism Newfoundland, which covered the zipline entry price. See our ethics and disclosure statement here.
I’ve been on a lot of shore excursions on all gay cruises and mainstream cruises—some organized by the ship, and some organized on my own. Both have pros and cons.
Some pros and cons to excursions organized by the ship:
Pro: Someone else has already done the planning for you. Just pay and go.
- Pro: You are guaranteed to get back on the ship before it sails.
- Pro: If the excursion doesn’t live up to what is advertised by the ship, you may be able to negotiate for a refund or some other perk.
- Pro: You’ll likely be picked up immediately outside the ship, and dropped back off at the ship.
- Con: You’re likely paying a premium over what the actual tour cost would be if organized directly.
- Con: You’ll probably be part of a big, cumbersome group—perhaps with people who don’t move at the pace you like.
- Con: You’re fairly stuck with the itinerary.
Some pros and cons to organizing your own.
- Pro: You can totally customize your shore experience.
- Pro: If you’re traveling with several friends, you may be able to negotiate a group discount.
- Pro: You can set the pace.
- Pro: You can control who is on your tour–just you, or a group of friends. All gay travelers, or mixed. The choice is yours.
- Pro: The price will likely be lower than similar excursions organized by the ship.
- Con: If you don’t get back to the ship on time, it will sail without you.
- Con: There’s a slim possibility your guide won’t show up.
- Con: It will take a bit of time and research to find the right activity.
- Con: If doing something unguided, you run the risk of getting lost and wasting time.
- Con: If using a local guide or company and something goes wrong, you probably won’t have much recourse to get your money back or get things corrected.
All that said, here’s an example of my best-ever, self-organized shore excursion. It was a full day in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, and included horse riding, a coffee plantation, zip lining (before they were ubiquitous), swimming in tropical pools under waterfalls, picnic lunch, and dinner.
At the time—2004
—the Royal Caribbean ship we were sailing didn’t offer a zip lining excursion, but I was aware of Costa Rica as the prime zipping destination in the world—really the place that pioneered the activity.
So, I started searching the Internet for zip line activities near Puntarenas. I found one particularly interesting, Finca Daniel. They specialize in tours for land-based visitors, and had experience in taking cruise ship employees for the day. So I contacted them and asked if they could take my partner and me—pick us up at the pier, and return us to the pier.
Then everything went crazy.
It was before MeetMeOnBoard.com existed, but through early social networking we got in contact with another gay couple who were on the same sailing. They were interested in the excursion. So I contacted Finca Daniel to ask if they could take two more people.
Well, long story short—once we were on the ship and started talking about our planned excursion, many people (gay and straight) wanted to go. So, I emailed Finca Daniel and they told me I could basically fill up their van—as many as 16 people.
So we filled up the van. Crazy, huh? From 2 people wanting a special experience…to 16 who wanted to share it.
Finca Daniel delivered an exceptional experience—they showed up on time, got us back on time (although with little time to spare), and everyone who went was 100% delighted and we were the envy of the ship. They gave me and my partner a small discount for arranging the group. Again, here’s the link to the experience.
Next time I’ll tell you about taking a minivan from the ship into Caracas, Venezuela…
Now: add your comments below about experiences planning your own shore experience. And did you know, MeetMeOnBoard.com can help you do it? Click for our Shore Excursions page.
I have taken about every type of shore excursion while on a cruise that ranged from bus tours with 40-50 uncommon travelers to private car and driver. While that is my preferred way to see the sights of the world, it is very expensive and can run up to 1500 euro a day in some parts of Europe!
This past July, I hosted a group on an 8-day Greek Isles and Turkey cruise from Venice. I decided to invite my group to take a special cruise on a chartered catamaran and sail around the ancient volcanic Greek island of Santorini. I was able to negotiate a charter on Captain Ted’s largest boat, the Dream Catcher. She is a state-of-the-art catamaran that offers a smooth and delicious sailing experience around this marvelous gem of an island.
Our excursion was the most amazing way to see this island that was destroyed many millennia ago by one of the strongest volcanic explosions in recorded history. We boarded our luxury boat where we were invited to sit on the nets, swim in the aqua blue color of the Aegean Sea and enjoy a sumptuous Greek meal with fresh seafood prepared by the amazing crew. Oh, and lets not forget the constant flow of cocktails.
The water was extremely refreshing and the scenery was remarkable with the towering cliffs of the island around us at all times. It was impressive, exciting, invigorating and I know that every one who joined in had one of the best shore excursions days ever! I sure did.
At the end of the day, the group was sad to leave but the ride back to Fira at sunset was remarkable. I normally don’t ‘gush’ about excursions but this one was tops.
If you get the chance to visit Santorini, this is the one excursion not to miss!
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Planning your own shore excursions
If you want to organize a group cruise and perhaps sail free, it is possible! If you do it right, you may end up several free cruise cabins! Starting last week, and continuing over the next three weeks, I’m providing a series of tips for planning your own group cruise with specific sensibilities for the gay cruise traveler.
One of the best things about having your own group on a cruise is the fun of shore excursions – planning that time together*.
It’s easy to find things to do on the ship, and a sea day or two on any itinerary tends to be a favorite of many gay cruise passengers.
But what about things to do in port? Everyone knows that the cruise lines offer pre-arranged shore excursions, and sometimes they’re the right fit for you. But when you’re travelling with a group, a whole new world opens up.
On our group cruise to Hawaii, we knew we wanted to spend time at Maui’s Little Beach – a famous clothing-optional spot with a popular gay beach area. So, we rented three cars, and we all went to Little Beach. Having several cars gave us the flexibility for the group to split into smaller groups later in the day as some people grew tired of sand ‘n surf and wanted to go shop or eat. We simply split the cost of the rental cars among all members of the group. It’s worth paying a bit extra (if required) to add an extra driver, and the insurance might be a good idea.
On my Panama Canal cruise, I arranged a Puntarenas, Costa Rica zipline shore excursion for 16 people. It was not available through the cruise—in 2004 zipline and canopy tours were still relatively new. The excursion was a full day at a ranch / coffee plantation / canyon, and they picked us up at the pier. The day included horseback rides, amazing ziplines, learning about coffee growing, a picnic in the jungle, and more…all for just over $100/person. It was exceptional value, and we all had a blast. Back on the ship it was very clear that we had waaaaay more fun that day than most other passengers. As organizer, I was offered a discount for my own excursion (not free, but saved a bit).
Learn more about this type of shore excursion.
How do you find shore excursions? Easy. Check guidebooks and websites for the destinations you’ll visit. Call or email ahead to tour providers you’re interested in, and let them know you’re bringing a group onshore from a cruise ship. Ask what they can provide (pier-side pickup is important!), and what they can do to help create a great experience for you. Negotiate on price.
- I suppose there’s the possibility that a provider won’t show up. It might be worth checking with the city or region’s tourism office about the reputation of providers.
- The chance that you miss the ship. It’s crucial that you inform the tour provider of your ship’s required all-aboard time. But even so, if something goes wrong (a van breaks down, unexpected road closure, etc.), and you miss the ship, you will be responsible for getting yourselves to the next port.
- Make sure everyone in your group is aware of these risks!
Tip: Make sure your group members offer an appropriate gratuity at the end of the excursion!
Tip: If your group is big enough to fill a van or even a bus, and you are interested in having the cruise line arrange your excursions for you (which will qualify you for their various guarantees—like the ship won’t leave without you if the excursion was booked by the cruise line), ask your travel agent to look into it—or to put you directly in contact with the shore excursions company who handles the cruise line’s onshore tours. Be sure to ask for discounts and a couple of free tour passes for yourself (no promises, but you never know).
Next week: dining together on ship and ashore
*In fact, that’s one of my favorite things about connecting with other gay cruise passengers via MeetMeOnBoard.com before a cruise…the chance to plan shore time together.
Here’s a trend that might have extra appeal to our lesbian sailors! Rent a Harley-Davidson motorcycle for your day in port. It’ll take a bit of doing, but imagine the possibilities once you’re on the bike. Of course, you butch gay guys are welcome to do it, too.
Who knows…for some of you die-hard biker babes, knowing these ports offer such a po
ssibility might actually influence where you choose to cruise…would it? Comment below, please!
Note: the dealers may be a fair distance from the port, and there will be plenty of paperwork and liability details to deal with…ride carefully and at your own risk.
U.S. WEST COAST cruise ports where lesbian and gay cruise passengers could rent a Harley-Davidson
Anchorage, Alaska, area:
House of Harley-Davidson
4334 Spenard Road
Anchorage, AK 99517
Seattle, Washington, area:
14408 NE 20th St
Bellevue, WA 98007
Los Angeles, California, area:
Orange County Harley-Davidson
8677 Research Drive
Irvine, CA 92618
U.S. CARIBBEAN cruise ports where lesbian and gay cruise passengers could rent a Harley-Davidson
Houston / Galveston area:
San Jacinto Harley-Davidson
3636 E. Sam Houston Pkwy S.
Pasadena, TX 77505
New Orleans area:
Crescent City Rentals at New Orleans Harley-Davidson
6015 Airline Drive
Metairie, LA 70003
Tampa, Florida, area:
Manatee River Harley-Davidson
624 67th Street Circle E.
Bradenton, FL 34208
CANADA cruise port where lesbian and gay cruise passengers could rent a Harley-Davidson
Saint John, New Brunswick, area:
1230 Fairville Boulevard
Saint John, NB E2M 5T7
AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALANDcruise ports where lesbian and gay cruise passengers could rent a Harley-Davidson
Brisbane, Australia, area:
Morgan & Wacker
54 Ross Street
Newstead, QLD 4006
Auckland, New Zealand, area:
Auckland Motorcycles & Power Sports
234 Khyber Pass Road
Christchurch, New Zealand
Rolling Thunder Harley-Davidson
35 Manchester Street
EUROPE cruise ports where lesbian and gay cruise passengers could rent a Harley-Davidson
Via Silvio Spaventa 15/17
Roma, RM 00187
Lazy Boyz Harley-Davidson
Oslo, N0 668
Harley-Davidson Valencia Nave
Av. de la pista de la Silla, 26
Ibiza, Spain (it couldn’t get better than this!)
Av. Ignacio Wallis, Nº 31
Ibiza (Baleares), 07800
At MeetMeOnBoard, we’re celebrating “National Cruise Month” with Seven Tips for gay cruise passengers. Watch this spot for more tips in the coming days.
Tip #3: Plan your own gay group? If you have a group of friends who want to sail together, you may be able to get special group pricing, or if your group buys enough staterooms you may get a free or heavily-discounted cruise for yourself. You will need to work with a cruise travel agent to make this successful.
It’s also important to know your limits—do you want to feel responsible for the group? Do you know the people well enough to travel with them? Are you still willing to go if you don’t qualify for a free cabin? Will you take the freebie or simply spread the savings among your group?
It’s “National Cruise Vacation” month in the U.S. That most likely means your travel agent is trying to up his quota and will be pushing email “deals” your way. We say: GO FOR IT! And don’t forget to add your cruise(s) to your profile to increase the chances of connecting with other MeetMeOnBoard.com members.
I just got my new National Geographic Traveler magazine (October 2009), and they’re reviving the 50 places concept. It’s been 10 years since they first created their list, and now they’ve added another 50–so technically it’s their list of 100 places of a lifetime.
I’ve pulled out the places from their list that you can visit by cruise ship, and have bolded the spots I’ve personally visited. (Note: I’ve only kept places that are actual ports or easy shore excursions, not nearby major cities).
In the future we’ll do a survey on your favorite cruise places of a lifetime. Now, what do you have to say about the Nat Geo choices?
- Athens, Greece
- Barcelona, Spain
- Dublin, Ireland
- Hong Kong
- Istanbul, Turkey
- New York, New York
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- San Francisco, California
- St. Petersburg, Russia
- Tokyo, Japan
- Vancouver, Canada
- Venice, Italy (soon, I hope!)
- Aleutian Islands, Alaska
- Amazon Forest
- Arnhem Land, Australia
- Auyuittuq National Park, Canada
- Galapagos Islands
- Papua New Guinea’s Coral Reefs
- South Georgia Island, South Atlantic Ocean
- Venezuela’s Tepuis
- Aitutaki, Cook Islands
- Amalfi Coast, Italy
- British Virgin Islands
- Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, Brazil
- Greek Islands
- Hawaiian Islands
- Kerala, India
- Lord Howe Island, Australia
- Mayreau, St. Vincent & the Grenadines
- Molokai, Hawaii
- Pacific Islands
- Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Salina, Italy
- Torres del Paine, Chile
- Yap’s Outer Islands, Micronesia
- Asturias, Spain
- Azure Coast, Turkey
- Canadian Maritimes
- Cordillera Terraces, Philippines
- Danang to Hue, Vietnam
- Gaspe Peninsula, Canada
- North Island, New Zealand
- Norway’s Coast
- Easter Island, Chile
- Karnak, Egypt
- Leptis Magna, Libya
- Pyramids, Egypt
- Sagrada Familia, Spain
- Vatican City
Of course, not all these interesting spots are fully gay-friendly…I’m interested in your take on that, too!
If you’re sailing from Seattle to Alaska (or repositioning) this fall, you may want to arrive a day early and catch the
Broadway touring musical Wicked at the Paramount Theatre. Of course you’ll get lots of great entertainment on your cruise, but Wicked is musical theatre at its best.
If you’re not familiar with Wicked (and it’s hard to imagine a gay person who isn’t), it is the re-imagined back-story of the two witches from The Wizard of Oz. And it’s simply brilliant.
Amazingly, Seattle ticket prices start at just $27…a number you’re unlikely to find on Broadway, and a price we likely will never see again once the recession is over.
Ports where you could see Wicked in the coming months:
A gay friend just asked me for suggestions on upcoming Panama Canal cruises. If you’ve followed this blog, you should
know that both my partner and I consider our 2005/06 canal cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas our best-ever vacation, for many reasons.
Perhaps the biggest reason was the many gay men we met on board — about 40 of them, mostly couples — some of whom we had “pre-met” through Internet searches… long before MeetMeOnBoard.com was born. Many of us dined together each night in 4s and 6s, but still at larger tables with straight passengers… it was a BLAST. (We’re still friends with many of them, and still travel to see each other).
Anyway… I could go on and on about what a great cruise it was. But I suggest you go book your own! Here are a handful of tips for that trip:
- Do a full-transit sailing, not a partial.
- Go east to west (start in Florida, end in California) so you’re always adding hours to the clock.
- Stay on the ship through the entire canal–that’s what you’ve paid to experience. Guests who get off at/in the canal to do shore excursions miss the complete wow of having sailed between the two oceans.
- If your ship stops in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, arrange privately for a full-day zipline & waterfall tour with http://www.finca-daniel.de/
- If you stop in Acapulco, you MUST see the cliff divers show.
Bon voyage! Randall
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