.An excerpt from my novel 'Cruise Quarters'

An excerpt from my novel 'Cruise Quarters'

When people sat down at Sarah Seldon’s blackjack game, they always wanted to talk about The Book. “Should I double down? Should I hit? Dealer, I know you’re a gambler; you could let me win if you wanted to. What does the book say?” She had never read this book, this mythical Bible for gamblers. The truth is there are 2256 books, each teaching its own foolproof winning system. But Sarah had been in the casino business long enough to think with a gambler’s mind. Gamblers knew they could follow all the rules of basic strategy, utilize money management and still lose if they weren’t dealt the right cards. The allure and curse of gambling was that there were no sure things. In the end it all came down to luck; gamblers prayed that Lady Luck would show up and that she would stick around for awhile.

Thursday, January 31, 2013


I was born in Charleston, South Carolina, a very old town on the east coast of The United States. My earliest memories are of my father driving all the kids to the beach at Sullivans Isle so that my mom could clean the house in peace. I loved standing at the edge of the shore and daydreaming about what lay on the other side of the very big ocean. Show me the child of six and I will show you the woman. Those days at the shore left me with wanderlust and freckles.

I love to travel, especially by boat, being on the water is my vision of being in heaven. So when I grew up it was no great surprise to anyone that I went to work on a cruise ship. I even wrote about my adventures in Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. I have worked on some really big ships, and I loved it but then one day I heard about European River Cruises. I know river cruises have been around for a while but it seems like they have just taken off in the last ten years. In fact, the company that we cruised with, AMA River Cruises has only been around for 10 years, and they have already doubled the size or their fleet. One cruise in and I am a convert and now I would like to share with you my top ten reasons for traveling around Europe on a very long boat.

1. The scenery, Europe is gorgeous; the countryside is laced with beautiful forests, architectural gems and turreted castles sitting high on the hills. We booked a French balcony; most of the rooms on the ship were in this category. It meant that the cabin had floor to ceiling windows, which were perfect for river views. Our favorite thing was to wake up around six in the morning, open the curtains, and lie in bed watching the world go by on the river as the sun rose in the sky. It doesn't' end there, all day long wherever you are on the ship, you always have wonderful views of the shore which is always in sight and the traffic on the river to entertain you.
Watching the world go by from the comfort of the lounge

2. The river system is incredible. We traveled down the Danube passing through the Main-Danube Canal. The canal is 171 km/106miles long. This canal allows traffic to pass between the North Sea and the black sea. The canal has a total of 16 locks, each about 625 feet long, 40 feet wide and up to 81 feet deep. It is thrilling to watch as you are lowered into a lock and see that the ship is only inches away from the wall, or passing under bridges just inches above the ship. If you love the Panama Canal you will be amazed by this canal.

3. River cruising is so smooth. If I hadn't occasionally heard the sound of the engines I wouldn't even have known that the ship was moving. We traveled in winter, no matter what the weather, it was like we were gliding on the water.

4. It is intimate. The ship held only 180 passengers at full capacity. The crew staff were always available to help you. There were no lines for anything. The ship was new, and very cozy.
Me at the window catching some rays

5. You don't have to spend all your time working out how to travel from place to place. When I traveled by train so much of my time was spent figuring out the train schedules and I ended up spending many nights on trains and buses lugging heavy suitcases. The last time I went from Vienna to Budapest by train I was exhausted before I even arrived. This time I watched us sail in. I was refreshed, ready for a new adventure.

6. You only have to pack your bags once. When you visit a lot of countries in Europe by car or train, you always seem to be packing. Inevitably you leave a few things behind. But on a river cruise you unpack at the beginning of the cruise and pack the night before you go home no matter how many countries you visit. Even though the room on the ship wasn't huge it had been so well designed that there was plenty of storage for all our clothes and even our suitcases. We went with a couple who had only tried bus trips before and they said that this was a much more relaxing experience.

7. Almost everything is included. If you look at the cost of a river cruise as compared to a bus tour or a regular cruise it might seem expensive but when you break it down it is a bargain. On our ship all the tours were included. There were a few optional excursions available but I felt that the included tours were enough. All our meals were included even beer and wine at dinner. If any of you have ever traveled to Europe you know that restaurants can be very expensive.

8. The food was wonderful. Breakfast was a buffet with side dishes like eggs benedict cooked to order. I especially loved the array of breads and pastries. My favorite meal was lunch, local specialties were featured and the chef would cook pasta to order, and it was wonderful the way only pasta cooked in Europe is. Dinner also included local specialties, and so much great seafood, such as halibut which, is quite expensive in America. Wonderful salmon was available every day. But the bonus we most enjoyed was the local beer and wine that were included. It was great to sample all that the countries we visited had to offer.

9. Because you are on a smaller ship traveling down a river and not on the ocean you can visit small intimate ports. We especially loved the medieval city of Regensburg in Germany. It was so convenient. We just walked off the ship and the tour would begin. It was winter time and the romantic Christmas market at the Thurn and Taxis Palace was bustling. It was great to be able to explore the city on our own with only a short walk back to the ship.
Christmas Market in Vienna

10. Some of the tour options were quite inventive. We cooked Hungarian Goulash at the Hotel Sofitel in Budapest. It was a great experience and we got some tips on cooking with paprika. It wasn't just a demonstration we chopped and fried and even tasted our own creation served with heavy crusted bread. We left with aprons and tea towels, and we all agreed it was the best tour. Our AMA cruise manager told us that they are always looking for way to improve and make our experience more enjoyable.

There is something luxurious about traveling on a cruise ship whether it be an ocean cruise or river cruise. From the crystal chandeliers to the polished brass stair railing, ships exude elegance. It is great that as cruisers we have more options all the time. I am sold on river cruises, the next time I plan to travel in tulip time.  Maybe I'll see you there.

About the author:
Cara Bertoia is the author of Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. Her novel is really a travelogue, a narrative, a romance, a self-help manual for gambling and cruising, and a real-life story all rolled into one funny, obsessive, and entertaining story of two people whose separate life journeys meet at a crossroads. Kindle Fire Dept. says, "This novel is a gem that is nothing short of a vacation in a book!"

Please check out her most popular posts to find more blogs about cruising.

Below are the links to Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships

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