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Author: pauline

Joined: 3/9/2010
Posts: 972
GCT Trips Taken: 11
OAT Trips Taken: 0
Countries Visited:

England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Malta, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, China, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Canada, Russia, Ukraine

Traveler Since: 1999

February 14, 2014

When we were in Malta it was the base trip, and in Mdina we lucked out.  We were waiting to get in to see a film about one of the excavations.  And while we were waiting standing across from the Cathedral square, people were coming in for a wedding.  A society one, based on the clothes that people were walking in and the limousines that other people were driving in.  Morning coats and top hats, and lace dresses midcalf.  Very exciting.

Gozo was an optional overnight that we enjoyed very much.  We stayed overnight at a hotel in a beautiful garden.  That island has natural water, but it didn't have a harbor until the dredged one out for the ferry boats.

There's a movie about Malta during WWII.  The cast is great, although the acting isn't.  That's surprising.  However, it's called the Malta Story and it's available on DVD.  Starring Alec Guiness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Steele, Flora Robson, and two younger actresses whose names escape me.  Malta was awarded a George's Cross for bravery.

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 425
GCT Trips Taken: 10
OAT Trips Taken: 0
Traveler Since: 2002

February 15, 2014

Pauline, I don't think I've seen the movie, but I will try to catch it.

The hotel was a mob scene last night, and only slightly less crowded today, But some of the people here last night were just here for the dinner and show, and most of the people who stayed the night are leaving this afternoon. The crowd this weekend made me doubly sure that I do not want to be here in the summer.

Winter vacations to Malta are well known and appreciated by the British, the Germans, the Danish, the Dutch, and a few other Europeans. But it seems to be a well kept secret from Americans. Besides the First Mate, Marty, Shirley, and me, we've seen no other North Americans, US or Canada, over the past 17 days. The Brits and the Germans heavily outnumber all other tourists here, both at the Seabank Hotel and at the tourist sites we have visited. I'm both surprised by that and kind of proud that I thought of it.

Southeast of Mellieha about five miles is a very elaborate hotel called Coastal View. It is at least the match of the Seabank and it is also all-inclusive. While waiting for a bus I was chatting with a Britisher who is staying there. He booked his 28-day vacation through Saga Holidays. He was extremely satisfied. So I looked it up on the Internet. Over the next 12 months Saga has only two of the tours scheduled, one in November 2014 and one in February 2015. The prices, including roundtrip air from London, are just a few Euro higher than what we are paying. And they include the presence of a Saga Program Director and one scheduled guided tour each week. Saga does not do business in America any more, but through the Internet one could probably book the tour through Saga by providing your own air transortation.

We have met a British couple, Bert and Moe (short for Maurine, I guess), and this is their ninth winter visit of at least a month each year, all at the Seabank. I haven't met any who have been coming longer but some the same or nearly the same length of time. They book directly with the hotel and book their own air, just as we did.

Those are just some "gee whiz" things I thought you might find interesting. Oh, yeah. Today was bright sunshine and the warmest day by far we have had while here. I haven't heard for sure, but I suspect the air temperatures was about 75 F (23 C). We took a hike along the coast, about a mile and one-half out and the same distance back, and it was delightful. Our family and friends in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast US can take some vicarious relief from our experience today.

 

Author: pauline

Joined: 3/9/2010
Posts: 972
GCT Trips Taken: 11
OAT Trips Taken: 0
Countries Visited:

England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Malta, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, China, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Canada, Russia, Ukraine

Traveler Since: 1999

February 15, 2014

We're getting another 6-10 right now.  I wish I was with you all.

I remember that in Torremolinos, there were a lot of winter visitors from states like Montana and Wisconsin.  But there were also people from Northern Europe.  There was a German lady who had a used book store across from the supermarket and launderette. 

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 425
GCT Trips Taken: 10
OAT Trips Taken: 0
Traveler Since: 2002

February 17, 2014

Yesterday was our friend Marty's 76th birthday. We really didn't do much celebrating. I mentioned before that we took him to a Burger King for his birthday dinner. We did go out to play what they call "French boules", a game using the same equipment and the same rules as the bocce I play quite a bit. But I play on a hard court and here they play on sand. Makes a big difference! The only other players when we started were two Brits, Bert and Peter. They have been playing every day for the past three weeks. We were then joined by Teo, a 20-year-old Bulgarian who is the staff person responsible for the boules game.

The first game was just against the Brits (we were the "Yanks") and we were soundly trounced, 13-4. Then Teo joined us and we played a three way game. We still came in last, but we did a lot better. The final was Teo - 13, Brits - 9, Yanks - 8. We'll try them again tomorrow.

Today we were met in the hotel lobby at 8:15 AM by Marija Buckle, a professional tour guide, who took the four of us on an extensive tour of the island of Gozo. The nation of Malta is made up of several islands, only three of which are inhabited. Malta is some 80 square miles, Gozo about 20 square miles, and Comino about 4 square miles. The population of the nation of Malta is about 400,000. About 30,000 live on Gozo and Comino has 3 permanent residents. The rest are on the island of Malta.

Gozo and Malta are separated by a 30-minute ferry ride. The ferry goes right by, but does not stop at, Comino. If you want to go to Comino you need to charter a private boat. I think I said before that the Gozo Ferry landing was 14 KM from the hotel. It is actually 4 KM, about 2.5 miles. We rode to the ferry landing in a mini-bus owned by Oswald Arrigo Ltd., the company with whom I booked the Gozo tour, and Marija's employer, at least for the day. During the ten minute ride to the ferry landing and the twenty minute wait for the ferry, Marija talked with us about the island of Gozo and about our game plan for the day.

Once on the ferry we went to the Sun Deck to better observe Comino as we passed by and Gozo as we approached it. Marija went her own way until we met up with her as we were disembarking the ferry. The minibus did not go with us. Instead we were met by James, a resident of Gozo, who was driving another minibus, this one home-based on Gozo. Over the next six and one-half hours James drove us to the prehistoric temple of G'giantia, the Calypso Cave, the Azure Window, the Roman salt beds, the cathedral and the citadel of Victoria (Rabat), the seaside resort village of Xlinda (where we got lunch), and a scenic spot overlooking the Blue Lagoon on Comino. We had very nearly circumnavigated the island when we got back to the ferry landing.

Having spent the past 15 years touring in groups where there were 20 - 40 tourists for one tour guide, having a guide for just the four of us was a unique experience. And an enjoyable one. Marija had only one target and that was the specific return ferry to Malta. The rest of the day she would suggest pkaces and durations, but would modify the plan to suit our desires. And we could all ask questions and have them answered. We had to buy our own lunch, but all transportation and admission fees were included. The cost to us was about $115 each, not a lot more than GCT charges for a full day optional tour.

When we returned to our hotel we were thoroughly exhausted but filled with pleasant memories of our day in Gozo. All i can add is that I booked the tour through a web site called PrivateGuiding.com. For their fee (included in the $115 mentioned above) they got me in touch with Oswald Arrigo and we put together the tour. This was all accomplished at least a month before we traveled to Malta. PrivateGuiding represents tour guide organizations all over the world.

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 425
GCT Trips Taken: 10
OAT Trips Taken: 0
Traveler Since: 2002

February 20, 2014

We kind of took the day off on Tuesday, just hanging around the hotel and not doing much -- especially walking. We did go to the beach where Marty and Shirley waded in the very gentle surf. Both the First Mate and I have foot problems that would make trying to walk barefoot in sand very painful. We did, however, play boules and I was on the winning team. My teammates were a British couple from the Midlands of England. The First Mate, Marty, and Shirley made up the other team.

Yesterday morning we  caught the bus about 9:00 AM and rode about an hour into Valletta, the capitol city of Malta. We took the tour of St. John's Co-cathedral, using the hand-held audio devices. Everything was great except the stairs going up to the museum and then back down. We were in the cathedral about an hour and a half.

We thought we would try for the 1:00 PM showing of the Malta Experience. So we stopped at a very small street corner cafe a block or two from the cathedral and had lunch. This cafe, The "Grand Master", had a window open to the sidewalk and specialized in carry-out, or, as they say it, "Take Away" service. But they had about three tables so we were served our sandwiches and drinks. The food was good but not great.

The First Mate and I had seen the movie at the Malta Experience before, but our ticket included also the tour of the hospital building that houses the threater. A couple of interesting aspects about this activity. When you are with a GCT group, as we were when visiting Malta in 2011, you know that admission charges are included the price you pay for the tour so you don't pay much attention to prices. We were somehat surprised when the ticket price was 17 Euro per person. But, for some reason, we were discounted to 15 Euro. Fortunately we had stopped at an ATM just before going to the movie so we were prepared. They did not accept credit cards. Neither did the cathedral nor the cafe. So we went through about all the Euros we had on hand.

The second difference from our GCT tour was that our PD said we didn't have time to do the hospital tour, but yesterday we did. The architecture and the history represented by the hospital, as it was started by the Knights of St. John, the "Hospitalers", and added to by later generations of knights, and the use of the various parts of the building over the ages all made an interesting half hour.

In 1967 and 1969 when I was in Malta as a sailor on a US Navy ship, There was a lift, an elevator, that went from the harbor water front up to the highest point in the city, th Barraka Gardens. It cost a trupence (three pence in the British currency then in use in Malta), and that was 3 cents American. You paid going up but going down was free. That lift was declare unsafe and unrepairable in 1976 and torn down. In 2012 the new lift, on the exact same spot as the old, was opened. It now costs one Euro, about $1.38 American, to ride up. Going down is still free. It was a fun ride, with a vertical lift about equivalent to a 15-storey building. Plus, we got to walk along the water side a bit and observe the HMS Daring, a Royal Navy destroyer that was in port.

The Barraka Gardens overlooks the saluting battery, the canons that are fired to greet visiting dignitaries and visiting ships. There was to be a salute fired at 16:00, 4:00 PM, so we thought we would wait to observe it before we caught the bus back to Mellieha. But the temperature was about 60 F and the wind was blowing about 25 mph, so we froze out.

The bus ride back to the hotel was uneventful. We were fortunate enough to get seats when we got on the bus. Some who were behind us had to stand for nearly an hour before reaching their destination. We were very tired and sleepy but also very happy when we got back to the hotel. We managed to stay awake until after dinner and then we collapsed.

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 425
GCT Trips Taken: 10
OAT Trips Taken: 0
Traveler Since: 2002

February 22, 2014

It's Saturday night in Malta and I'll try to bring this thread up to date. Thursday was a day for recouping expended energy. About the most exciting thing we did was compete in the boules comperition. Marty and I were on the losing team while Shirley and the First Mate were with the winners; then we went to the beach where Marty and Shirley waded in the rather chilly waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

On Friday morning we rode a bus to Mosta where we changed to another bus to get to the Crafts Village and Malta Military Aviation Museum in Ta'Qali. We got on the bus we were told to take, but the closest it got to our desired destination was about one mile. So we had a nice little hike on narrow, country roads with no sidewalks. But we got there and discovered a bus stop much closer that we could have used had we changed buses in Bugibba instead of Mosta. We used that bus combination getting back to Mellieha.

The Crafts Village was of little interest to Marty and me, and the Aviation Museum of little interest ot the First Mate and Shirley. We visited one glass blowing facility and store, but that was about all for the crafters. Many were closed. It is a summertime tourist season activity.There were a couple of tour groups there, but they did not have much to see.

The volunteer manning the Aviation Museum was Tony, and he wanted to talk to Marty and me. He does not often see Americans, and he was especially interested when i said my earliest visits to Malta had been on US Navy ships. It has been for 50 years a hobby of Tony's to visit all US Navy ships that come into Malta's Grand Harbor and take pictures and collect momentos, such as baseball caps with ship name and ship stationery. He was most proud of having been on board USS America on its first visit to the Mediterranean after comissioning and also on its last visit to the Med before decomissioning. Since the America's first visit was near the time I was there, 1967 or 1969, Tony was probably on my ship as well, but he does not remember the USS Sandoval.

When a tour group arrived that required Tony's attention Marty and I got to see the exhibits. The role of Malta as a British base during the early years of WWII, especially during the North African campaign, was the primary theme, and the airplanes and other vehicles on display were mostly from that era. But they did have a few exhibits from later and from earlier. They even had a replica of the Wright Brothers' 1903 Flyer. It was am emtertaining and informative hour we spent there.

The tour group that distracted Tony was a group of German senior citizens. That was of interest to me because most of the displays made reference to Germany as the enemy. I know that modern Germans view the Nazi-era as a distinct and distasteful period of their history, so the tourists were just as interested in the displays as were we.

We returned to the hotel, tired but happy. I was definitely footsore.

Marty and Shirley wanted to go to mass today since we are going to Marsazlokk early tomorrow. So we all went to the Village of Mellieha this afternoon and explored it much more thoroughly than we had before. The church in Mellieha is huge and beautiful, just like all the other town churches in Malta. In fact, in ranking Maltese church in size and decor, most people put the Mellieha Parrish Church either fouth or fifth among the nearly four hundred churches on the islands. The bell started tolling at about 3:50, which seem to us an odd time for the bells. Turns out it was for a funeral service. They were just completing the funeral mass for an 81-year-old lady. As soon as they cleared the church we went in to look. Then the First Mate and I went back to the hotel while Marty and Shirley went to mass. The only English language mass is on Sunday morning at 10:00. This mass was in Maltese. They understood not a single word, but the order of the service was familiar.

Now you're up to date. Just three more days in Malta and then we fly home. The forecast is for the temperature at home to be about 60 degrees colder than what we leave. That will be a shock, for sure.

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 425
GCT Trips Taken: 10
OAT Trips Taken: 0
Traveler Since: 2002

March 02, 2014

We've been at home in Southwestern Pennsylvania almost exactly three days now, and I'm sitting here watching the snow accumulate. It started about 7:00 AM and now (2:00 PM) it is about four inches deep. The heaviest snowfall is due between 10:00 PM today and 8:00 AM tomorrow. We could have a foot of snow before it ends. For comparison, I was talking with a middle-aged Maltese citizen who said he has never seen snow.

As usual, the flight home was the worst part of the trip. London Heathrow is a terrible airport for passenger amenities. It can handle a lot of passengers in a short period of time, but not one of them is comfortable. But we made all connections and arrived at Washington Dulles Airport on time and unscathed.

A summarization of our 27 days at Seabank All-Inclusive Resort Hotel in Mellieha, Malta: Fabulous! The room was quite comfortable, the food and beverage service was more than adequate, the staff was very polite, attentive, and friendly, and the amenities all one could hope for. The only commercial establishments within walking distance were other hotels, but the availability and cost of bus transportation made that a non-problem. We took a bus ride about every other day, some for shopping, some to tour specific sites, and some for just general sightseeing.

I booked the Seabank Hotel because my initial research indicated that the other hotels in the vicinity were not all-inclusive. I found out that most of them are. Some that are not all-inclusive have self-catering facilities. We were not there long enough to get bored with the variety of food being served in the various dining venues, but it was getting close. If I were planning to stay more than one month I might like the option of preparing my own meals, at least part of the time.

The main urban center of Malta is Valletta and the surrounding cities. You can't tell when you pass from Valletta into Sliema into St. Julians into Paceville... I would not much want to stay in that area. I did encounter a retired proffesor from Boston who has, for several years, rented an apartment in Valletta for the entire winter. He says it is much cheaper and more interesting than anything in Florida, USA. He also said that two-thirds of the apartments in the city of Valletta are vacant. When the work day is over Valletta becomes almost a ghost-town. All the action moves to Sliema, St. Julians, and, especially, Paceville. Incidentally, Paceville has the Italian pronunciation, PAH-chay-ville.

So I, personally, would not want to stay in the urban center. But Mellieha might be just a little too remote. A good compromise, and one that boasts a number of all-inclusive or self-catering hotels, is the town of Bugibba. It is larger and more commercially developed than Mellieha. It is a bus hub from which you can reach out to almost the whole island. From Mellieha we had to change buses in either Bugibba or Valletta to get to some areas. An example of a hotel in the Bugibba area that might bare investigation is one called the Coastal View Hotel. It is used by Saga Holidays for their extended stay vacation packages that are similar to the Classic Costa del Sol that GCT used to offer.

I'm sure there were some that I did not encounter, but our friends, Marty and Shirley, along with my First Mate and me, were the only North Americans tourists we met. I forgot the Boston professor. We asked the reception manager at the hotel if there were other Americans there and he said he did not remember ever having seen Americans there in the winter. There were a few in the summer but never more than 10 at a time. The hotel holds about 1,000.

There is a great contrast in the guest demographics between summer and winter, and between weekdays and weekends in the winter. Summers and winter weekends are the time for families with young children. Winter weekdays are for senior citizens, mostly from the United Kingdom and Germany. Sunday night through Thursday night there were about 200 guests at the hotel. Friday night and Saturday night the number was closer to 1,000. It was interesting but we were glad to go to breakfast on Monday morning and not have to fight for a table or for space at the buffet lines.

The evening entertainment was tolerable but not great. They had a resident corps of singers and dancers, augmented by occassional "headliners". The resident entertainers were probably better than the headliners. As proof we were there in the off season, the resident troup numbered about 15 in the summertime. It was 6 or 7 while we were there and a couple were leaving each week and being replaced. And the quality was going down while the newcomers were being trained.

The exception to the mediocrity of the entertainers was Domenika, a young Slovakian dancer. She was very talented, very flexible, and very energetic. She was also very responsive to anyone who showed any interest in talking with her. She is leaving Seabank this week to take a job with another resort in Greece for the coming year.

The other staff person we developed a special raport with was Dimitri. Dimitri is 19 years old, from Serbia, and he is basically a busser and buffet replenisher in the main dining room. On our last day he was ready for us to come to lunch. He pulled us aside to pose with him while the diningroom host took our picture with Dimitri's cell phone. We also had our cameras and likewise got pictures.

I think in all the posts I have made to this thread I have covered the trip pretty well. But if you have any specific questions, just ask and I'll provide an answer. Answers are plentiful; accurate answers a bit more rare.

Author: pauline

Joined: 3/9/2010
Posts: 972
GCT Trips Taken: 11
OAT Trips Taken: 0
Countries Visited:

England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Malta, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, China, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Canada, Russia, Ukraine

Traveler Since: 1999

March 02, 2014

When I was thinking of going to Malta for my 80th birthday, I found a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment in either St. Julian's or Sliema.  I don't remember now which one.  That would have allowed us to make our own breakfasts and lunches and have dinners out.  The pictures of the place looked very nice.  The owner was an Australiam woman who had several properties in Malta that she rented out.

But you're back now to winter!  There's no end to this.

Pauline

Author: grandcircle

Joined: 3/5/2010
Posts: 272
GCT Trips Taken: 0
OAT Trips Taken: 0

March 03, 2014

captainlarry and your firstmate ! 

Welcome back !  

Annmarie

Forum Moderator

Author: captainlarry

Joined: 4/24/2010
Posts: 425
GCT Trips Taken: 10
OAT Trips Taken: 0
Traveler Since: 2002

March 03, 2014

Thank you, Annmarie. It was a great vacation but it's good to be home.

I am certainly not a professional tour organizer and there is a lot to the business I don't understand, I'm sure. And I assume that your product development department keeps tabs on all competitors to see what types of tours are being offered. But I would encourage you to give them the suggestion that they look closely at what Saga Holidays calls their "Stay and Relax" tours. I spoke with a British gentleman who was in Malta for a month having booked his trip through Saga. He was quite pleased. A number of us have expressed disappointment that the Classic Costa del Sol tour went away.

Author: mary jayne halli...

Joined: 9/25/2010
Posts: 57
GCT Trips Taken: 27
OAT Trips Taken: 0
Traveler Since: 1989

March 03, 2014

Yes, I too wish the classic costadelsol was still availa le butr can see where it was probably no longer profitable for Grand Circle and to some folks the Bajondillo was not classy enough (not me, enjoyed it v ery much) and miss all the folks we met year after year from so many European countries.  Sounds like you had a great time in Maltra.  The one trip I took there probably 10 or 15 years ago was with Saga.  Have a good one and thanks for all your report.

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