For those of you who are thinking about a river cruise and have never taken one, it took us several months to zero in on the cruise we wanted. Then there was the matter of price. There are many travel agencies who advertise on the web so price comparison is no problem. All will probably match the price quoted by a competitor at the time.
What is more problematic is when to book. Of course both the cruise companies and the travel agencies want you to book right away. One can’t blame them as competition is fierce. Even though river cruises are extremely popular, the cruise companies have responded by adding more ships and cruises. Viking in particular, added a dozen new ships for river cruising in 2015, while most of its competitors added at least one. Unless you want a particular ship at a particular time and place, it seems to me that it might benefit you to wait, especially if you don’t have to travel during summer vacation. We booked six months ahead, which used to be the optimum time, and I thought I got a good deal. My training as a historian has made researching and finding the best trip and the best price almost a compulsion, and I was lucky the first time. I decided to work with Michelle Shirley, our travel agent at AAA, with an office two miles from home. My reasoning was if there was a problem, she was right there. Many travel agencies seem to be based in states far from Georgia like California and Texas, which is well and good if everything goes according to plan, but it doesn’t always.
Alright, so we had our cruise, our trip insurance, our passports, our carry-on’s; we had decided to go with only our carry-on luggage and one extra checked bag. Now all we needed were our flights. Today there are dozens of sites that offer the cheapest air-fare wherever you want to go. When you check them out, they often have the same information as the airline sites or the cheap flight advertised is no longer available. Then, of course, you can look on the airline sites which often have the same prices. I did all this religiously and could not find a reasonable fare from Atlanta to Budapest. Finally went to AAA for help (remember I really am a good researcher and feel I don’t need help) as I wasn’t getting anywhere and we surely couldn’t drive to Budapest… Michelle Shirleychecked with Uniworld and was able to get a great fare through them, with only one connecting flight on the way out and a direct return. I am not a fan of flying anywhere but there simply aren’t any direct flights from Atlanta to Budapest. So if you are going on a river cruise, it is likely that your cruise company can offer you a better flight deal than you can get yourself. However, I have heard that some cruise lines have arbitrarily changed passenger flights once in a while, but this did not happen to us. What we booked was what we got.
November 8, our departure date finally arrived. I was excited about the cruise but nervous as usual about the plane ride. The weather was clear at Hartsfield airport when we got dropped off by our daughter, Lisa, at the International Terminal. We hadn’t flown anywhere since 1998, so the security lines were all new to us as would be the sardine like conditions inside our plane. Security wasn’t too bad, except that my husband forgot his sunglasses and cigarette case in the basket after going through the detector. We had time and walked back but they were no where to be found. After I had my hips replaced, I received a card from the manufacturer which I was supposed to hand to the TSA folks, but they weren’t interested in it and did a good job patting me down after I set off the machine. The good thing for us was that people over 75 are considered too old to have shoe bombs installed so we were allowed to keep our shoes on as we went through the line. LOL
Our daughter Robin, is a world traveler and she insisted on buying us extended comfort economy seats for our trip. Since I’m retired teaching faculty not a high-up administrator, business class is just out of reach, but economy class without the luxury of extended comfort can be rough as we found out. If you can afford it and it is available, grab it. We flew out Delta and I must say the quality of the food was not good. Extended comfort included drinks and early boarding, but the food was not memorable. However, most important was that we arrived safely in Amsterdam and the flight was smooth.
One thing we didn’t know then was that Schipol airport in Amsterdam is very spread out. It took us about 15 minutes to taxi to our gate. I learned later that we landed in the area called the Polder. And, as you might expect, the KLM gate for the flight to Budapest was on the opposite side of the airport. We hurried as fast as we could, unable to look at the interesting shops on either side, since we didn’t have a lot of time between flights. This had caused me quite a bit of anxiety ahead of time as I wondered what might happen if we missed our flight or were late.
As it turned out, we reached our gate in plenty of time, after going through security yet again, and were wedged into our seats in a fairly old plane. No extended comfort on the connector flight which still boasted red no smoking lights, though they didn’t turn them on. The connecting flight was run by KLM and the service and food was much better than that on Delta. The flight attendants were a very jolly group who seemed to enjoy their work. They happily served us excellent Dutch-style sandwiches and cookies and before we knew it, the plane touched down in Budapest, Hungary. Could the Danube be far away?
After collecting our luggage, we exited the small airport and quickly spotted a smiling Uniworld staff member holding up a sign with the Uniworld logo. There was another group bound for a Viking longship who all sported little red carry-on bags with the Viking logo. With a sigh of relief, we joined a growing group of folks headed for the River Beatrice patiently waiting for all the cruisers to arrive. My husband deemed it time to dash outside, despite the cold rain, to have a long-denied cigarette. I was just happy to have reached the country my mother had left almost 100 years ago, never to return.