My wife and I have just bought Sydney-London-Sydney tickets for March. Other than travelling in France and Spain in a hired car, is it difficult to cross from Spain to Morocco by ferry and travel by train or bus to Casablanca and Marrakesh? We could then fly back to a major city in Spain or France. if this is not practical, should we fly from Spain to Morocco and join a local tour?
A. Li, Lindfield.
There are plenty of ferries operating between Spain and Morocco but the best option for you is going to be the one between Tarifa in Spain's Cadiz Province of Andalucia to Tangier city. If you take the ferry from Algeciras you'll enter Morocco at Tanger-Med, the port facility, which is located about 40 kilometres from Tangier itself, although there is a bus between the two. There are several sailings daily and the crossing takes only about one hour. You can find more information and make a booking on the Direct Ferries website directferries.co.uk. From Tangier you can then take the train to Fes and onwards to Casablanca and Marrakesh. From Marrakesh there are many flight options to get you back to Spain or France.
Experienced travellers should have no problems making their way independently by local transport in Morocco but travel first class on the trains and keep your wits about you.
Can you tell me why the Golden Eagle train excursions are so expensive? the Danube Express, Istanbul to Vienna, is about $15,000, for 12 days. This is basic twin-share with double bunks and sharing a shower and toilet down the corridor. I have done the APT river cruise and loved every minute and I would like to try the train excursion but not at these prices.
A. Grahame, Mulgrave.
I put this question to the media spokesperson for Golden Eagle Luxury Trains and received this response: "The movement charges and operational costs of running an exceptional train like the Golden Eagle Danube Express are far higher per person than a typical river cruise ship. This is a luxurious train with separate dining cars, a piano bar, lounge, mostly en suite compartments and very attentive personal service, and yet it accommodates only 50 passengers. It cannot be compared with a river cruise ship that might accommodate four times that number. With first-class facilities, the Golden Eagle Danube Express hotel-on-wheels offers the ultimate in exclusive rail experiences. From the moment guests step aboard they can expect everything to be taken care of, from fine dining, both on the train and in local restaurants, to a personal cabin attendant and a diverse range of touring options. Passengers will also benefit from the signature touches of a Golden Eagle rail adventure such as the option of a deluxe en suite cabin, a champagne reception, a special gala caviar dinner, evening turndown service, five-star hotel accommodation, live musical performances, and an onboard doctor."
My own take on this is that luxury trains are a premium product and unlike river cruises, they do not compete on the same routes and therefore prices are high. They appeal to a special class of traveller looking for a refined experience with echoes of the past but there are certainly ways you could travel the same route as the Golden Eagle Danube Express at a much lower cost.
We will be in Vancouver next year and would like to cruise the Inside Passage. Having received different advice regarding ship size, time to go and how long, what are your thoughts?
B. Pierce, Birchgrove.
There are many different options for cruising this route and plenty of conflicting opinions, and the choices can be baffling. The dividing line between small and big vessels lies at around the 100-passenger mark, although typically the larger vessels will carry several thousand. Big ships offer good value, heaps of on-board facilities, luxurious staterooms and multiple dining choices but they lack the intimacy that only a small ship can bring to the experience. For nature lovers who want to get to grips with the raw majesty of this chilly wilderness, get mud on their boots and maybe paddle a sea kayak around melting sea ice, a small vessel is the only way to go. Smaller vessels will also take you into bays and even some ports that cannot accommodate larger vessels, and strolling around Juneau when several cruise ships are berthed is not much fun.
The cruise season runs from May to September. Few would want to cruise outside those months. Mid-June to late August is the busiest time, and my pick would be early September, when the crowds have gone and by coincidence, so have most of the mosquitoes.
Cruises are typically seven or 14 days, but the longer cruises are for hardcore wilderness aficionados looking to commune with bears.
Conversation over to you…
The question was "Ever been bumped from a flight due to over-booking, and did the airline do anything to compensate?"
G. Allen writes: "In April last year my wife and I queued for an hour and a half at Dubai Airport only to be told that our flight to Sydney was overbooked by 20. We were driven to nearby Le Meridien Resort and given a room and meal vouchers and told that we would be picked up in 10 hours for the next flight. We were also given free return flights Sydney-Dubai to use within the next twelve months. This sounds good but we were also left $600 out of pocket since we had to spend an unexpected night in Sydney. We did use the free flights this year to go to Auckland."
From J. Brown: "Last year we were transiting through Vienna to Zagreb. The flight was over-booked by three seats and Tyrolean Airways conduct was polite and efficient. Via an announcement in the departure lounge they explained their situation and called for volunteers, offering €250 compensation and a time for the next flight out. My husband and I volunteered and were delayed by only 90 minutes. Why can't all airlines conduct themselves like that when they want to bump you?"
From R. Metcalf: "In July following a three-day stopover in Dubai we arrived at Dubai Airport at 11 p.m., only to be politely informed our flight was over-booked and we would have to wait until 8am the next morning. We were initially told we would receive a free flight from Dubai to Sydney as compensation but we were subsequently offered two free return flights from Sydney to Athens. When I checked what conditions applied to our free flights I was informed there were none and we could fly to anywhere in Europe. We have now booked Sydney-London for next June. Thank you Emirates."
Next question: I'm staying in an Airbnb in London and both the pictures and the reviews bear no relation to my shabby abode. Has this happened to you?
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