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  • Writer's pictureJohn Dostaler

John's April 2024 Update

Spring is in full swing - and so are some amazing travel offers and destinations!


Join Me On This Cruise!


I'm a pretty bad client when it comes to travel - I wait until the last minute (in my defense, I am pretty busy planning OTHER vacations for clients). But if you think ahead - you can find some amazing pricing that takes the "bite" out of your travel budget.


I have found a wonderful cruise with Royal Caribbean International on the Harmony of the Seas. This is one of the Oasis-Class ships: there is NO SHORTAGE of things to do for your family. Is the ship big? Yes. Does that mean your kids won't complain "I'm bored"? Probably!


I plan on letting my kids zip-line, surf, rock climb, ice skate, and drop down slides for one GLORIOUS week on the high seas. What will I be doing? Enjoying an adults-only meal at the Solarium Bistro, visiting the spa and meeting the kids at the arcade later. Oh, and a glass or two of wine will be involved.


For a (VERY) limited time: a family of 4 can get a guaranteed Oceanview Balcony stateroom for UNDER $3,200! For Spring Break: that's a steal. Pricing is similar for weeks in March and April. On TOP of that: $225 in On Board Credit!



This expires TONIGHT (4/10/2024) but Royal Caribbean LOVES a good sale, so I can imagine the pricing (maybe not onboard credit) will remain around this price for a few weeks. Rates are ALWAYS subject to change and based on availability.


So what is a "Guaranteed" cabin? It means I can't pick your cabin when you book through me, BUT you can save thousands. PLUS: there are really no obstructed oceanview balconies on this class of ship.


Click below and join us on the March 30, 2025 sailing!



 

Every Picture Is A Postcard In Santorini

Spring Break In Greece


I know where MANY of you went for Spring Break this year: Mexico, Dominican Republic, Belize, Costa Rica, Florida (so many in Florida!). Where did I land? Greece!


Now I'm sure that the first thing that comes to mind is "Who the hell goes to Greece in March?" Well, me. To be fair: I hate crowds (although that cruise is going to test my patience!) especially when I'm on the ground exploring. Late March and Early April ended up being the PERFECT time to enjoy Greece!


The weather was upper 60's to low 70's and we wore shorts (sun dress for my daughter) the entire time: nighttime you needed a light sweater.


Our first stop was in Athens for a couple of nights to allow us (read: MY KIDS) time to adjust to the time change and also to explore. There is history around EVERY corner - something we don't get to explore in the suburbs of Chicago (sorry, that old Walgreens doesn't count as a "historical site").


My number one recommendation: hire a private tour guide. When you've got a group of 4 or more - a private guide makes sense (both educationally and monetarily). Our guide whisked us around Athens and we had a full day of viewing the Olympic Stadium, the Acropolis and so much more. He was well-versed in Greek Mythology and that just added to the experience.



After a couple of fun days: we headed to our cruise on Celestyal Cruises. This is a Greek-owned cruise line and this cruise is port-intensive. There are NO "days at sea" - you are at a different locale each day so you will definitely get your "steps" in!


Our ship was the Celestyal Journey, an older Holland America Cruise Line ship that was purchased by Celestyal and remodeled. They did a wonderful job with the remodel. I found the ship to be pretty "lounge intensive" with a large number of bars but limited dining options.


I'll write more on service/food/cabin at the end of this write-up.


My Wonderful Family!

Our first stop: Santorini! The little village of Oia (pronounced "Eee-ya") is the postcard-perfect white building/blue dome capital of Greece. It's everything you'd expect - and even though we went in the "off season" - it was still crowded. That has quite a bit to do with the narrow "streets" - there just isn't a ton of room to navigate. One BIG negative to a Santorini stop on a cruise: you need to take a "tender" that is basically a water taxi from the ship to shore. However, if you don't book a cruise excursion, you have to hike up (what feels like) 10,000 steps OR pay to ride a tired donkey (morally, I couldn't do it) or a small gondola. The queue for the gondola was LONG on the way down. So we fought the donkeys and donkey poop down those steps. It really was a bad way to end a magical day.


The Walled City

Rhodes was next up and this was a wonderful port to explore! We ended up in another small village and found one of the only restaurants that had opened up for the season. I ate all the feta and I regret NOTHING!


The walled city is still entact today and you can feel the Roman influences all over - but this island is full on Greek!



My son, Everett, enjoying the "feast" and dancers!

Our next island was Samos and I now feel like we wasted our day with the cruiseline excursion.


It was also here I decided I just am not cut out for many cruiseline excursions - I prefer more intimate touring with guides where it's personalized.


We did explore the village (and were greeted with locals handing us fresh-cut orchids!) but this particular excursion had a "Greek feast" and let's say they got the "Greek" part right. The food was fine but the experience was lacking. I would've enjoyed wandering around more. One scary moment was when our bus almost plunged into the bay - and we were told afterwards busses weren't allowed there for that reason! Yikes!



Our longest stop was in Istanbul. I've had mixed feelings on this city: I have visited Istanbul about 14 years ago and didn't have a great experience. Also: as a primarily Muslim country, I know our family isn't a common sight to see. And at the end of the day: the safety of my family is paramount to any touring we do.


Me & My Son (He Loves Boats!)

We hopped on a sunset cruise on the Bosphorous and it was a lovely way to spend the evening!


The next day, I had hired a private guide and she could not have been more wonderful! She informed us that Istanbul was incredibly progressive and no one would bat an eye - and she was right. Even inside the mosques, no one seemed to notice or care much about our presence as a family. The history is incredible. The Hagia Sophia was a church for quite some time and there were murals of Christ, etc. When it was converted to a mosque, instead of removing them, they simply covered them up with a coat of plaster in an attempt to keep history intact.


Blue Mosque Behind Us

I won't delve into the complicated history of Christianity, Islam and Judaism - but it was nice to see that some respect was given to the historical significance of the mosque when it was a church.


We had an amazing meal in Istanbul - this visit truly changed my vision of the city!


I'm not a foodie: but I'd visit Istanbul for the food alone. We had (what I consider) one of our best meals. We ordered like we were feasting because everything looked (and smelled) amazing! Sitting at a cafe on the busy pedestrian street, this was a wonderful way to rest and recharge for the rest of the tour (which included carpet weaving, tile making and the Grand Bazaar!).


Our next islands were Chios and Kos - both relatively close to Turkey - and both cater to Turkish residents during the peak travel season. Kos was incredibly quiet but one "beach club" had opened and we had a wonderful time watching our kids play on the beach while we enjoyed a fantastic lunch.


Wandering Mykonos

Finally: Mykonos. Much like Oia in Santorini, when you arrive via tender, you are surrounded by little avenues and views of the gorgeous water. We just wandered! It was so fun to get "lost" and do it all over again.


We stayed in an outside cabin (no balcony) that has not been renovated, so we were awash in brown 1990 tones the entire time. It wasn't bad - but it wasn't luxury. The food was probably some of the best we've had on a cruise. It's Mediterranean-focused and they launched new menus when we were sailing. The best part was the service: this could've easily been a luxury line with the service we received from our room steward and service staff in the restaurants and lounges.



Dining-wise, there are no set times on the ship, you just show up. For specialty dining, they ask you make reservations. We did not do specialty dining as my kids are (no shock) picky eaters. I'm not paying $50 for them to eat buttered noodles.


The downside is there is zero kids programming on this cruise line. Zip. The old "kids club" could be a storage closet it was so small. There are two pools: one on the aft of the ship and one with a retractable roof but neither pool is heated. There are two hot tubs and those were popular with all of the kids onboard.


Speaking of mealtimes: they're set and you need to be aware of that. Breakfast ends around 11 and lunch won't open until 1. That ends at 3/3:30 p.m and dinner doesn't start until 6:30 p.m. There is no pizza stand. No burgers on the pool deck. There is one small greek "grill" for an additional fee. Basically: if you miss a mealtime, you need to wait a few hours.


All in all - it was a wonderful time! It gave me an idea of what islands I want to visit when I return, but it won't be on a cruise ship. There is incredibly value in Celestyal Cruises and I'd highly recommend it to any client - as long as they know it's really focusing on exploring many islands versus the experience onboard (which is still pretty fantastic).


 

Free Dining Offer Returns To

Walt Disney World


I normally never recommend the dining plans at Walt Disney World unless you plan on heading to plenty of character meals (those cost up to $80 per adult!) but a new promotional offer makes it more compelling for the Disney Dining plans.


For select stays in 2024, Disney Visa Cardholders can take advantage of a FREE dining plan (depends on the resort) when you book a 4-night/4-day park hopper ticket nondiscounted package. There is lots of small print on this one, so feel free to reach out if you are interested.


Now, you're asking yourself: "John. I DO NOT WANT ANOTHER CREDIT CARD." I hear you! If you happen to have a Chase Checking account, you can "convert" it to a Disney Debit card and get all the same promotions. Better yet: you only need to make the deposit with that debit card ($200). The balance can be paid on any card. It's a simple workaround for a fantastic value.


Drop me a line at john@travelprojohn.com and I can give you all the nitty gritty details.


 

Majestic Hawaii

Bucket List: World Cruise


If you've ever wanted to explore the world in ultimate luxury: this is it. A world cruise will allow you to see more than you'd ever imagine and Regent Seven Seas has announced their 2027 World Cruise and it's spectacular.


Bora Bora

Begin in Miami and enjoy 140 luxury-filled nights all the way around the world before you finish in New York City.


On January 11, 2027, set sail aboard the all-suite, all-balcony Seven Seas Splendor through the Caribbean, transiting the Panama Canal into the Pacific. In Australia, savor the magic of Malé and soak in the beauty and elegance of the Mediterranean in the spring. Experience the world in all its splendor.


Maldives

NOW IS THE TIME TO SET OUT ON YOUR GRANDEST ADVENTURE!


Exhilarating calls on 71 iconic destinations, 14 overnights and plenty of time in port to fully experience the must-see sights and hidden treasures that have always been on your travel list.



Message me at john@travelprojohn.com for more information and pricing!

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