Linking Cruises: Combining two (or more) cruise itineraries

Linking Cruises
Did you know that you can “link” cruises together? In other words, you can combine itineraries to turn, for example, a 7-day cruise into a 14-day or 21-day (or longer) cruise. My husband and I frequently link on Princess Cruises. In recent years, we have linked Eastern and Southern, Eastern and Western and, most recently, Eastern, Southern and Western Caribbean cruises during the month of January. A few years ago, we linked a British Isles cruise with a Trans-Atlantic cruise on the Royal Princess in October. The first time we did this, we learned how common it is – especially among seasoned cruisers.

Here’s an example of how to link cruises together:

Begin with a Trans-Atlantic cruise itinerary in the spring or fall. To link another cruise to this itinerary, find another cruise that ends on the first day the Trans-Atlantic cruise departs. The key is to make sure both cruises are on the same ship. Linking cruises is quite popular, and it works best if the cabin you select on cruise #1 is also open on the cruise you’re linking to. I recommend booking six months or more in advance – and watch for cruise sales! The best sale on Princess is the Anniversary Sale (early December through the end of February).

Cruise to St. John, US Virgin Islands
Who wouldn’t want to spend more time cruising through the Caribbean? (St. John, US Virgin Islands)

So how do you transfer from one cruise itinerary to the next?

On the night before the last day of the first completed cruise, you will receive a customs form and a transit card, as well as instructions explaining the transition to the next voyage and indicating where and what time to meet. You’ll probably be asked to bring your passport, transit card, current cruise card and your completed customs form.
On the day of “transit”, you will meet at the time and place indicated in your instructions, and a cruise attendant will swipe your cruise card. Once all of the transit guests are accounted for, everyone will depart the assigned area by row. A U.S. Immigration Officer will look at your passport and cruise card, and swipe your cruise card again.
It’s that easy! You don’t even have to leave the ship! Depending on how many people are “linking” cruises, this process takes approximately one hour. Of course, transit times and procedures will vary a bit, depending on the destination.

Docking in Bonaire during a Caribbean cruise
Docking in Bonaire.

More tips for linking cruises:

  1. Your credit card number rolls over to the next cruise.
  2. Your account on the first cruise will close at the end of the first cruise. You will begin a new account on your second cruise.
  3. Make sure your travel agent “links” the two cruises.
  4. You may have the option to keep the same dining table on the second cruise. (Sometimes the wait staff changes.)
  5. You can keep the same cabin, providing it’s available at the time of booking both cruises (which is why it’s important to book six months or more in advance).
  6. Onboard credits, internet minutes and the onboard account MAY roll over. (Mine have always rolled over on Princess.)
  7. If you have reached Elite status (Captain’s Circle), you will get a new minibar set-up on the second cruise.

Rent a condo for the winter? Or, cruise for one or two months?

On our January 2017 cruise, approximately 400 people linked two or more cruises. We also heard of a couple from Boston who stayed on the ship from January until March. They preferred cruising over renting a condo in Florida or Arizona for the winter!
A few advantages of cruising over renting a condo:

  1. The scenery changes every day.
  2. You don’t need a car.
  3. All meals, entertainment, cabin cleaning, and transportation are taken care of. And there’s all kinds of activities onboard and onshore that are already planned for you.
  4. Plus, if you’re at the highest frequent traveler level, your laundry is done for free. Otherwise, there are laundry facilities located on each passenger deck.
  5. While in port, you have the option to explore on your own, have lunch, play a round of golf, shop, join a ship excursion, go sailing, or just stay on board the ship! The options are endless!
  6. And the best part … you meet wonderful people from all over the world.
Curaçao cruises
Cruising in Curaçao

Are you ready to book your next back-to-back cruise? Give us a call at 800 GO WITTE (800-469-4883) or fill out our Contact Form to connect with a Certified Cruise Specialist!

Photo courtesy of kansasphoto.

Bike and Barge Tours: The Best of Both Worlds

Bike and Barge Tours

As more travelers seek out experience-based vacations and stray further away from traditional “tourist traps”, bike and barge tours have emerged as a booming trend—particularly among people over the age of 50.  With adventure travel and river cruising also rising in popularity, bike and barge tours offer the best of both worlds: the excitement of an active, culturally immersive, off-the-beaten-path experience, combined with the all-inclusive comforts and amenities of a river cruise!

So, with nice weather just around the corner and Witte’s Bike & Barge Tour from Amsterdam to Bruges coming up this September, I’ve answered some FAQ’s about bike and barge tours. Continue reading “Bike and Barge Tours: The Best of Both Worlds”

Highlights of a Rhine River Cruise

In late October 2014, my colleague Teri and I departed from Grand Rapids, Michigan for a Rhine river cruise with Avalon Waterways, aboard the Artistry II.

Melissa with the Artistry II
Standing in front of the Artistry II

River cruising is a great way to travel Europe– especially if you’re not sure where to go in Europe or what you want to see!  Our Cruise Director was Gusta from Amsterdam. She traveled with us for the entire trip.  Every night before dinner, during the cocktail hour, she would give a “port talk” about the next day’s excursions, what time to meet, and what the importance of the next port city was.

Teri with the Artistry II
Teri’s turn to pose with the Artistry II

Dining on board is open seating for all meals. There was a full buffet for breakfast and lunch, and dinner was by menu. Hungry before the scheduled meal time? Not a problem! There is an early riser’s breakfast available, and a light lunch of soup, salad, and sandwiches.  For something fun to do, Avalon offers the Pamorana Bistro of Chef’s specials Tapas style.  There is an aft lounge with coffees, cappuccinos, teas, and sweet treats always available.  These meals, and treats are included in your cruise price.

Life onboard is very casual and comfortable.  There is a small workout room, and a hair salon.  The ship does have one elevator. The public spaces are never crowded.  The top deck is the place to be when cruising the river, with enough loungers for everyone to have a place to sit.  The scenery is ever-changing and the cruise director will make announcements of the important sights along the way.

Had we cruised in the summer months, the top deck Jacuzzi would have been open to enjoy as well.  There are no swimming pools aboard.

Entertainment (piano and singing by Jerry!) was provided each night after dinner, in the lounge. This offered a chance to visit with others, dance, and enjoy a cocktail. Occasionally, Avalon brought special entertainers onto the ship.  Don’t miss these nights!  The entertainment was excellent, and again, it was included in the cruise price.

We also took several tours during our stops along the Rhine:

Strasbourg, France – Alsace – wine tasting and winemaking country

wine tasting in france
Wine tasting in France

Speyer, Germany – Excursion to Heidelberg – Heidelberg Castle

Rudesheim, Germany – Best coffee! Be sure to visit Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Museum.

Teri and Melissa in Rudesheim
Teri and me, in Rudesheim

Rhine Gorge – Sailing all day.  The scenery is so wonderful.  Enjoy a baguette sandwich and wine on the top deck!

Rhine River Gorge
Gorgeous views from the Rhine River Gorge

Cologne, Germany –  The Dom Cathedral is very Gothic, and so beautiful.

Dom Cathedral
Dom Cathedral

Amsterdam, Netherlands– This was the end of the trip, but not the end of cool things to see.  We did some biking during day, and toured the Red Light District at night. (Sorry, no photography allowed in the district).

Biking AMS
Biking in Amsterdam

Is there a river cruise in your future? Join us for our 31st annual Netherlands Waterway Cruise this April, or check out our other cruise offerings.

Tell us about your river cruising adventures in the comments, or let us know on Facebook!

Viking River Cruise

River cruising is one of the best ways to travel through many of the world’s most fascinating places.  Once you board the vessel, you can unpack (just once) in a very spacious river-view stateroom, then relax in comfort for the duration of the cruise.  Each day enjoy the beautiful scenery from almost everywhere on the ship.  The Bar, restaurant, and lounge all have panoramic views.  The staterooms have a balcony or large picture window that opens.  My favorite place to take in all the beauty is the shaded Sun Deck, where you can enjoy the fresh air and a 360-degree view!  The vessel keeps moving, so throughout the day everyday you see new scenery and explore new destinations full of culture and history.  The docks are located in the middle of the town or city so you can walk right off the ship and check out the area on your own if you like.   Enjoy guided walks, tours and excursions planned for you everyday, with leisure time to sightsee on your own.  Because the ships are smaller with the average of 150-300 passengers, you get a more intimate experience with the crew and fellow passengers.  And the flat-bottomed ship ensures a safe and smooth ride without the worry of motion sickness!

My husband and I went on a Viking River Cruise down the Rhine River.  The ship we were on was the Viking Helvetia.  This ship is one of 19 Viking Ships and holds 198 guests.  All Staterooms are outside with river view.  Deluxe staterooms have hotel-style beds with European linens and duvets.  Staterooms on upper deck have a French balcony with sliding glass doors.  There is plenty of closet and drawer space and a place to stow your bags after you have unpacked. All rooms have a private bath with shower, your own climate control system, telephone, safe, TV that offers CNN and other English-language programming.  The ship has a shaded sun deck, restaurant, library, observation lounge & bar, onboard boutique, and free wireless Internet.

Viking River Cruises offer all-inclusive packages that include your meals, enrichment lectures, excursions, hotel accommodations for “cruise tour” itineraries, and airport transfers when air is purchased thru Viking.  The dining on board is excellent with regional specialties as well as Western-style favorites.  Complimentary wine is offered every evening with dinner.  Each day, you will have an excursion that will introduce you to the local culture.  All tour guides are English speaking and personal headsets are provided so you can hear every word they are saying.  Culture Curriculum lectures focused on the history of the region of the day are offered on the ship.  Viking uses deluxe, first class or superior first class hotels for overnight stays for passengers taking a “cruise tour” package.  If you want more than the included excursions, Viking does offer a selection of optional tours on each itinerary that can be purchased on board.  If you do not want to participate in the tours that are offered, you may choose to stay on the ship or tour on your own.

The tour my husband and I chose was called the Rhine Getaway.  The cruise was on the Rhine River beginning in Amsterdam and ending in Basel.  It consisted of 8 days, 6-guided tours, and 4 countries.

Viking does offer pre and post extensions if you want more time in those cities before or after the cruise.  We only did the cruise.

Saturday-Amsterdam

We arrived in Amsterdam mid morning on Saturday and were transferred to the ship upon arrival.  The staterooms are not available until mid afternoon so we familiarized ourselves with the ship, enjoyed a light lunch in the lounge, and then took a walk into town.

Some things to see as you stroll the city:

  • The many canals and connecting bridges that crisscross the city
  • “Amsterdam’s Rodeo Drive” which is the popular upscale shopping street
  • Anne Frank House, where Anne wrote her famous diary of her experiences while hiding from the Nazis
  • In the evening, visit one of the many popular pubs, know as brown cafés
  • The famous Red Light District

After settling in our stateroom, resting a while, and freshening up we went to the lounge where the staff introduced themselves and the program director gave us a briefing of the next day’s itinerary.  Then everyone went down to the dining room for dinner.   Later that evening the ship’s Program Director took anyone who wished to see the Red Light District, on a walking tour.  We chose to retire for the evening since we had been up over 24 hours.

Sunday-Kinderdijk

Our ship left Amsterdam at midnight and arrived in Kinderkijk at 9:00 a.m.  Viking offers an “early bird” breakfast from 6:00 – 7:00 a.m. consisting of coffee, juice, and pastries just outside the lounge area.  They also offer a full size breakfast buffet in the restaurant from 7:00-9:00 a.m.  We went for the buffet.  At 9:00 the Helvetia arrived in Kinderdijk.  Our shore excursion was to visit the picturesque Dutch Countryside of the historic Kinderdijk area.  There we could visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, where there is a collection of 19 windmills that give you a glimpse of Holland’s past.  The windmills were used to pump water from the pastureland into the Lek River, which lies above the level of the fields.  Today huge diesel electric pumps perform this function.  We were able to tour one of the working windmills.  Some families still live in them today and must keep them in working order even though they are no longer used.  By noon we were back on the ship and cruising down the Rhine toward Cologne.

Monday-Cologne, Germany

The Helvetia docked in Cologne at 8:30 a.m. and our 2 hour guided walk tour started at 9:00.  We did a short walk around the Old City of Cologne and visited the magnificent Gothic Cathedral.  The cathedral is the largest in Northern Europe and it took 632 years until the construction of it was completed.  This was the cities most famous landmark for centuries.  It is known for its two soaring spires and its most beautiful stained glass windows.  There are still fragments of Roman ruins that can be seen in parts of the city.  There is a Roman Tower near the Cathedral, which was once part of the medieval town walls.  Cologne also has many popular Museums such as the Museum Ludwig, devoted to modern art where a collection of Picasso’s work is displayed, the Fragrance Museum Farina House, the birthplace of Eau de Cologne and the Schokoladenmuseum, dedicated to chocolate making.  Unfortunately we were not able to visit any museums because they were closed on Mondays.

The rest of the day we were free to visit the city on our own or enjoy time on the ship.  On the Viking, they offered a lecture on “Germany Today” and a German dinner was served.  After dinner an optional excursion was offered at an additional price of 29 Euro to join a local guide on a walking tour to visit different pubs, taste the Cologne beer, and learn about the Brahaus Culture.

Tuesday-Koblenz, Middle Rhine & Rudesheim

Our ship docked in Koblenz early Tuesday morning.  This city, located on both sides of the Rhine is the third largest city in the Rhineland-Palatinate with a population of 106,000.  The headquarters of the German Army Forces Command is located here.  After breakfast we began our tour for the morning, taking buses to the Marksburg Castle.  This fortress is located on a hill above the town of Braubach.  It is the only medieval castle of the Middle Rhine that has never been destroyed.  This castle was used for protection rather than as a residence for royal families.  The tour lasted about two and half hours and then we were back on the ship and sailing down the middle of the Rhine for the rest of the afternoon.

It was a beautiful sunny mid 60’s fall afternoon to enjoy the upper-deck of the Helvetia in our lounge chairs and enjoy all the beauty that surrounded us!  Our program director Stephanie, gave a commentary of all the points of interests as we cruised through the most beautiful stretches of the Rhine.  There were so many “Kodak moments” throughout the afternoon, between the variety of colors lining the hillsides from vineyards and the gorgeous fall colors of the trees, to many little towns, churches, castles, and ruins.  We also passed the famous Lorelei, a legendary rock formation rising 440 feet above the river.

Late in the afternoon we docked in Rudesheim.  An optional excursion of a mini train ride, dinner and entertainment along the Rudesheim’s lively Drosselgasse was offered for 59.00 Euro per person.  This main commercial street is lined with wine bars and small shops and is very popular with the locals and visitors.  For passengers that chose not to take the excursion they were free to dine on the ship and then take a stroll in town on their own.

Wednesday-Heidelberg & Speyer

Midmorning our ship docked in Mannheim where we disembarked for a coach excursion to Heidelberg, Germany.  Our first stop was at the Majestic Heidelberg Castle.  This Castle was originally built during the 13th Century and was the residence of the Palatinate monarchy from the 13th through 18th centuries.  It is located on the Northern slope of Konigsstuhl Mountain.  The view from the castle overlooking the town of Heidelberg and the Neckar River is breathtaking.  After touring the grounds of the Palace our tour continued on a drive around the 600-year-old Heidelberg University, the oldest in Germany.  Then we took a walking tour through the old town and had some free time to stroll down Main Street lined with shops and cafes that stretch about a mile.  Later we returned to our ship, which had continued cruising to the town of Speyer.  It was late afternoon and we had a couple hours before we would set sail again so many of us took a stroll into this town.  Speyer was once an important center of Jewish culture.  Some ruins of the 11th century synagogues still remain.  We were not able to go in but we walked around Germany’s largest Romanesque building, the Imperial Cathedral.

That evening after dinner our ship began cruising down the Rhine towards Strasbourg, France.

Thursday-Strasbourg, France

Thursday morning the Helvetia docked in the German town of Kehl, directly across the Rhine River from Strasbourg.  After breakfast we disembarked for a tour of Strasbourg.  Our tour consisted of a drive past the Palais de L” Europe where the Parliament meets and the city’s remarkable Renaissance architecture.  Then we proceeded to the city center where we began our walking tour.  We visited the picturesque Petite France area and then walked to Old Town and then on to Cathedral Square where we toured the Strasbourg Cathedral.  This was one of the finest of Europe’s great Gothic cathedrals.  Inside we saw the beautiful stain glass windows, and the remarkable astronomic clock on the back wall of the cathedral.  After the tour was over we had a little free time to do some shopping in Old Town before getting back on the motorcoach to return to our ship for lunch.  Our ship would not be departing until late in the evening so we had the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore on our own or take an optional excursion to Baden-Baden.  This included motorcoach transportation and a guide for 39 euros.  My husband and I chose to enjoy the beautiful afternoon by walking into the town of Kehl and do a little shopping.

Friday-Breisach & Black Forest, Germany

The ship docked about 8:00 a.m. and at 8:30 we disembarked for a motorcoach excursion through Germany’s beautiful Black Forest.  This densely forested, mountainous region is famous for its traditional cuckoo clocks and cherry schnapps.  Our first stop was at a shop in Hofgut Sternen where they sold their amazing cuckoo clocks and a demonstration was given on how they are made.  We also had the chance to try their famous Black Forest Cake.  It was delicious!!  The second stop on our excursion was in the town of Sankt Peter.  We took a short walking tour through this small town and went into the St. Peter Cathedral.  This Cathedral had beautiful paintings all over the ceiling, a lot of gold décor throughout, and a huge pipe organ in the balcony.  We had a little time to browse the shops and then back on the coaches for a return to our ship.

In the afternoon, two more optional excursions were offered.  One was a motorcoach ride and guide to the town of Colmar for 34 euros and the second was a World War II tour for 39 euros.  Those who did not choose those excursions were free to visit the town of Breisach.

In the evening we gathered in the lounge for a farewell toast with the Captain and then enjoyed the Captain’s Farewell Dinner with our newfound friends.  During dinner the ship departed for our final destination, Basel, Switzerland.

Saturday-Basel, Switzerland

Bright and early we disembarked to the airport for our return home.  For those who had purchased the Post-Cruise Extension, a motorcoach would take them to Lucerne where they would check into the hotel and then have a tour of Lucerne the next day and depart for home on the third day.

It was a wonderful trip and a relaxing, stress-free way to see Europe!  I recommend it highly!!