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Direct Line Cruises

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Official Travel Notes Blog

'Since its humble beginning in 1995, Direct Line Cruises has grown to become one of the largest official agencies for the cruise industry'; says the official blurb.
Since falling in love with cruising, Helen Coiro has turned her low budget, home-based, hobby/business into a company with new corporate headquarters in Hauppauge, New York; handling reservations for more than 25,000 cruise passengers throughout the United States, with hopes that the increases in booked sailings will stay afloat.

Direct Line Cruises Website

The Direct Line Cruises website offers a 'Cruise Quick Search' to find cruises by destination or departure port.

While they concentrate on US departures, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Civitavecchia (Rome), Dover (England), Harwich, Istanbul, Piraeus, San Juan, Southampton, Stockholm, Sydney, Valparaiso and Venice are also included as departure ports.

Popular cruise destinations and the three major cruise lines they deal with are linked to from the top of every page: Alaska Cruises, Bermuda Cruises, Caribbean Cruises, European Cruises, Hawaii Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean.

Interestingly though, their logo (stuffed with keywords in the alt tag) doesn't link back to the homepage; they prefer a text link for that. They're also proud to advertise that they use 'Search Engine Optimization Services', so I took a look over there to see what the 'experts' come up with in their 'free web site analysis'.

Anyway, back to the website review.

While Direct Line Cruises want your cruise booking (they even have a toll-free number: 1-800 DLC-8088), there are a few sections that help to answer your questions; although the 'Cruise Facts' and 'First Cruise' links both go to the same page.

The Port Directions are outlined for those arriving by car. Some maps would be nice, as would details for travellers preferring public transport. Maybe even put each port on a different page. Parking charges ($10-15 a day) are not included in the cruise price.

Direct Line Cruises also have a 'Cruise Blog' Direct Line Cruises Blog but there's not a lot happening there and the 'Cruise News' link on the main website is a page of links; to the blog entries. So if you're looking for the latest Cruise News, look elsewhere.

The 'Shore Excursions' link doesn't work, as their 'poweragentnet sub-domain' has been disabled.

You can find out more about the ships in their three preferred cruise lines though. After all, what's the point of cruising to somewhere fantastic if you don't like the sound of the ship you're on; or you might as well just do 'budget cruising' with Easy Cruise.

Price Comparison

I tried a quick search comparison with 1800-Cruises.com and Cruise Brothers; putting in Europe as the destination and the travel date as July 2007.

Direct Line: 20 results (1st July to August 31st).
1800-Cruises.com: 138 results.
Cruise Brothers: 276 results (1st July to August 31st).

On the Celebrity Cruises Constellation (July 21) prices for Interior and Oceanview were the same while Direct Line offered MUCH cheaper Balcony and Suite cabins; although they were cheaper still on CruiseBrothers. So it might pay to shop around, if you have the time.

On the Norwegian Jewel, with more sailings, Direct Line compared well with Balcony and Suite cabins but we could do better with Interior and Oceanview cabin prices on some sailings.

Direct Line do offer Travel Insurance in their price though.


Britain's Heritage Cities

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Official Travel Notes Blog

A lot of people visiting England tend to concentrate on London, but in doing so they are missing out on a lot of Britain's heritage.

So next time you plan a trip to 'London' consider venturing out of the capital and take in the sights of Bath, Brighton, Chester, Durham, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and York.

Bath: (Hotels in Bath)
The Roman Baths, historical Abbey and Georgian stone crescents have attracted visitors to Bath for centuries.

Bath is located 120 miles west of London and can be reached in 90 minutes by train from London Paddington. If you choose to travel by car, it's a short drive from the M4/M5 motorways, or just 15 miles from Bristol International Airport.

Brighton: (Hotels in Brighton)
From the unique Royal Pavilion to the Victorian Brighton Pier, the Volks Railway to Brighton & Hove Museums, Brighton's attractions are a mix of heritage, seaside fun and cultural experiences.

Brighton is less than an hour by train from London Victoria. By car, Brighton is some 30 minutes from London Gatwick.

Chester: (Hotels in Chester)
Chester, the most complete walled city in Britain, is also home to the largest Roman Amphitheatre in the country. Chester Cathedral is the fourth most visited in the country and it was here that Handel first rehearsed 'The Messiah'.

Chester is about 2½ hours by train from London Euston, or some 40 minutes by road from Liverpool and Manchester airports.

Durham: (Hotels in Durham)
After the Norman conquest of 1066, King William found Durham to be the ideal location from which to rule Northumbria and defend the region against the Scots. The panoramic view of Durham Cathedral and Castle is so magnificent that they have been designated a World Heritage Site.

Durham is on the main London-Edinburgh train route; under 3 hours from London and about 2 hours from Edinburgh. By road, you'll find Durham on the A1(M); between Darlington and Newcastle.

Oxford: (Hotels in Oxford)
Famous as a city of learning, Oxford also has a castle (used as a prison until 1996) and an old Saxon Tower at the North Gate. Blenheim Palace (just 8 miles from Oxford) is a World Heritage Site, home of the 11th Duke of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.

Trains to Oxford leave from London Paddington. If you prefer to drive, Oxford (west of London) is linked to the M25 by the M40.

Stratford-upon-Avon: (Hotels in Stratford)
Famous as the birthplace of playwright, William Shakespeare, the famous Bard has a picturesque resting place at Stratford's Holy Trinity Church, on the bank of the River Avon. Warwick Castle is also only eight miles away.

Trains leave for Stratford-upon-Avon from London Marylebone.

For those looking for an activity holiday, Shakespeare's Way is a 146 mile long-distance footpath connecting Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon with Shakespeare’s Globe in London; clearly marked both ways.

York: (Hotels in York)
And last but not least, the walled City of York is steeped in history.

Eboracum (York) was founded in AD 71, as a Roman military fortress, on the north-east bank of the River Ouse, and went on to become the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior.

Revived as the Anglo-Saxon trading port of Eoforwic, it was captured by a large army of Danish Vikings in November 866 and acted as the capital for the Viking kingdom of Jórvík.

Today's King's Square (Konungsgårthr) is where the Viking rulers built their palace.

From 1976 to 1981, the York Archaeological Trust conducted a five-year excavation in and around the street of Coppergate, which uncovered well-preserved remains from the time of Viking Jorvik, preserved in anoxic wet clay. The Jorvik Viking Center is a must see for visitors to York. Tourists can journey through the reconstruction of Viking-Age streets, as they would have been in the year AD 975.

The York Castle Museum is best known for its recreated Victorian street, Kirkgate, which combines real shop fittings and stock with modern sound and light effects, to evoke an atmosphere of Victorian Britain.

York is a 4-hour train ride from London King's Cross. But well worth the visit.


London Language Schools

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Official Travel Notes Blog

I've met quite a few people on my travels who have studied English in Brighton or Bournemouth, for a summer beside the seaside, but none who have studied English in London.

If you're thinking about studying English in London, Answer English review a number of London Language Schools.

There are plenty of choices for English Courses in London: Burlington, Camden College, Central School of English, Excel, Frances King, Hampstead School of English, London School of English, London Study Centre, Malvern House, U.I.C. and Wimbledon School of English.

And then there's all all the cultural highlights that the capital of the English language provides.

So maybe you should forget about an extended summer by the sea and head for the bright lights of London instead.


Total Lunar Eclipse of March 3rd

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Official Travel Notes Blog

If you're reading this shortly after I post it, you might want to get away from your computer and look at the night sky.

Tonight's Lunar Eclipse is unique in that it will be partly visible from every continent in the world.

The entire event will be visible from Europe, Africa and western Asia.

At the moment of greatest eclipse (23:21 UT), the Moon will lie in the zenith for observers in Nigeria and Cameroon

In eastern Asia, moonset occurs during various stages of the eclipse.

The Moon sets while in total eclipse from central China and southeast Asia.

Western Australia catches part of the initial partial phases but the Moon sets before totality.

Observers in eastern North and South America will find the Moon already partially or totality eclipsed at moonrise.

From western North America, only the final penumbral phases are visible.

Timetable in Universal Time (UT)
Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 20:18:11 UT
Partial Eclipse Begins: 21:30:22 UT
Total Eclipse Begins: 22:44:13 UT
Greatest Eclipse: 23:20:56 UT
Total Eclipse Ends: 23:57:37 UT
Partial Eclipse Ends: 01:11:28 UT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 02:23:44 UT

Universal Time is the astronomically derived time system referred to as Greenwich Mean Time or GMT.

Lunar Eclipse For Beginners:
An eclipse of the Moon (or lunar eclipse) can only occur at Full Moon, and only if the Moon passes through some portion of the Earth's shadow. These events are quite striking for the vibrant range of colors the Moon can take on during the total phase.

Lunar Eclipse Photography:
Unlike eclipses of the Sun, eclipses of the Moon are perfectly safe to watch with the naked eye.

Solar Eclipses
Where to go to catch a total solar eclipse, or find out if one is heading in your direction, between now and the year 2020.

Lunar Eclipse March 3rd

While we have bad cloud cover here, I'll scour the web to see if we can find some nice photos of the eclipse.

Katie from Cambridgeshire viewed the moon at 21.15 (during the penumberal eclipse), through her scope and camera. Check out her eclipse photo taken at 22:39, just before totality at 22:44. It's a nice glowing red.

Joey @ darxr updates lunar eclipse photos throughout the night.

Keryn and Brendon Doran had clear skies in Brentwood...... Here comes the shadow.


Destination Clubs

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Official Travel Notes Blog

What's the deal on destination clubs?

For those who like the comforts of home when they go on holiday, and feel that a hotel doesn't quite offer them that, there are a number of other options: homeswaps, timeshares and currently making the news: destination clubs.

As always, there are advantages and disadvantages.


You can choose a different house every time you go away but then you'll also have strangers in your home. If you don't like the thought of that, then perhaps villa rentals would suit you better.


Owning a part of your holiday home is fine, if you like going to the same place every year, but there's been a lot of bad publicity with timeshares; caused by the over persuasive and pestering tactics of some timeshare touts trying to pay for a life in the sun, or on the slopes, based on the commissions they make off 'the punters'.

Destination Clubs

And now the big one.

A destination club is not for the financially strapped at all.

Like most clubs, there's an initial membership fee that could cost much more than the price of a second-home. Some people even sell their second home to join.

There's also an annual fee that would make a budget traveller weep.

All this money and you don't even own anything; except for a taste of luxury. But if you can afford the membership fee, then you have enough luxury in your life already.

So it's a luxurious change of scenery.

Some destination clubs have stepped up a gear and are now offering luxury homes based on a single theme; as a way to stand out from the crowd.

While money might not be an object for many affluent travellers thinking about joining a destination club, shrewd research and attention to contract details should be applied as poorly-run and under-funded clubs can disappear faster than the value of shares in a Wall Street crash.


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