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Showing posts with label Ocean Cruises. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ocean Cruises. Show all posts

Friday, February 26, 2021

Continuing Education Update - Virgin Voyages

 More continuing ed taking place in my house recently.  Never stop learning. Today I am the newest Certified Travel Professional with Virgin Voyages as a Certified First Mate!  I am absolutely ready to help you discover all that the world's first adults-only (18+) cruise line has to offer. 

#virginvoyages #seacademy


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Disney Cruise Line Returns to Greece in Summer 2021 and Offers an Exciting Array of Additional Itineraries for Families

 In summer 2021, Disney Cruise Line will sail a variety of itineraries around the world including a return to Greece – back by popular demand – and exciting and varied European destinations, Alaska ports, and tropical locales. Plus, Disney Cruise Line will visit three first-time ports of call in Greece, Sweden, and Norway.


Explore the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, and Beyond

In summer 2021, a new collection of itineraries is part of Disney Cruise Line’s grand tour of Europe. From May through July, the Disney Magic will visit captivating locales in the Mediterranean including the Greek Isles, Spain, and the French Riviera. From late July through September, the ship will transport guests to bucket-list destinations in the British Isles, northern Europe, the Baltic, Iceland, and Norwegian fjords.

The Disney Magic will return to the awe-inspiring beauty of Greece in summer 2021, where guests can marvel at the stunning landscapes and archeological wonders of the region, like Santorini with its iconic whitewashed cliffside dwellings and Mykonos with beautiful beaches along the azure Aegean Sea. Four special voyages departing from Rome will visit the Greek Isles, with cruises ranging from eight to 11 nights.


Each of these unique Mediterranean itineraries combines a selection of stops in Greece with visits to other notable cities in the region. Noteworthy ports of call in Greece include Katakolon near ancient Olympia – home to the first Olympic Games – and the gorgeous Greek island of Kefalonia, the first-time port of call for Disney Cruise Line.

Another itinerary highlight is a visit to the picturesque Sicilian harbor city of Messina, where guests can sample tantalizing, locally grown citrus fruits and delectable olives. One cruise features a stop at the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic.” The walled medieval Old City of Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage site that offers spectacular seaside views and centuries-old cobblestoned lanes to explore.

Additional first-time ports of call for Disney Cruise Line include the medieval city of Visby, Sweden, considered to be one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Scandinavia, and the village of Eidfjord, Norway, home to geographic wonders and situated at the foot of Hardangervidda, Norway’s largest national park.

Adventures in Alaska 

The Disney Wonder will return to Alaska for the 2021 summer season to explore the region’s breathtaking natural vistas, glaciers, and wildlife.

Departing from Vancouver, Canada, seven-night itineraries will visit Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Dawes Glacier. One nine-night Alaskan adventure will visit Hubbard Glacier, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Juneau, and Ketchikan. A special five-night cruise will travel to Dawes Glacier and Ketchikan.



Each Alaska sailing will offer adventure and fun in port and aboard the ship, with stunning scenery, exciting Port Adventures, and special Disney Cruise Line touches that will bring the splendor and spirit of “The Last Frontier” to life onboard.

Tropical Vacations to the Caribbean and Bahamas 

In summer 2021, Disney Cruise Line will embark on a variety of vacation voyages to tropical destinations in the Caribbean and Bahamas. Ranging from three- to nine-night sailings, the varied itineraries allow guests to experience charming island cultures, sunbathe on golden beaches and revel in local marketplaces. Most itineraries include a stop at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.


In addition to seven-night eastern and western Caribbean cruises from Port Canaveral, near Orlando, Florida, and the Walt Disney World® Resort, the Disney Fantasy will embark on an assortment of itineraries throughout the summer of 2021. These include a six-night sailing and an extended nine-night Caribbean cruise. Three-, four- and five-night Bahamian cruises round out the Disney Fantasy summer season – all including a stop at Castaway Cay. One special five-night cruise features two stops at Disney’s private island.

The Disney Dream will provide even more opportunities for guests to visit Castaway Cay in the summer of 2021 with all three- and four-night Bahamian cruises calling on the private island paradise.


When To Book Summer 2021 Itineraries 

Platinum, Gold, or Silver Castaway Club members, can take advantage of the opportunity to book summer 2021 itineraries before they go on sale to the general public on February 27, 2020.  Reach out to us today to be added to the list for booking when your Castaway Club level is eligible!

  • February 25, 2020: Platinum Members 

  • February 26, 2020: Platinum and Gold Members 

  • February 27, 2020: Platinum, Gold, and Silver Members 

  • February 28, 2020: all Guests 

Guided Experiences with Adventures by Disney

In summer 2021, Disney Cruise Line guests can enrich their cruise vacation with a variety of add-on packages from Adventures by Disney, a leader in family-guided group vacations. Highlights include a return to Alaska and popular packages in northern Europe and the Mediterranean. 

With Adventures by Disney, guests can book the ultimate Disney cruise experience on select sailings in Alaska and Europe. Throughout the voyage, knowledgeable Adventure Guides provide dedicated service both onboard and in port, as they lead guests on specially curated excursions, interactive activities, and off-the-beaten-path adventures. Onboard the ship, guests enjoy unique experiences and premium amenities exclusive to Adventures by Disney, such as an intimate talkback session with Walt Disney Theatre cast members followed by a behind-the-scenes costume and prop activity.

Adventures by Disney also offer popular pre-cruise vacations in Rome; London; Barcelona, Spain; and Copenhagen, Denmark. These two- to three-night Escapes feature unforgettable experiences in iconic cities, such as a private guided tour to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel in Rome. Plus, activities like flamenco dancing, mosaic making, and preparing local cuisine immerse families in the culture of each region.

Bookings for these Adventures by Disney offerings open to the public on Feb. 27, 2020. 



Reach out to us today to include your name on the list for any of these exciting voyages!  317.776.1733

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

An Invitation to my Viking Cruises Presentation

Come spend some time with me in January learning about Viking, who has been voted the #1 River Cruise Line by Condé Nast Traveler. We'll explore their river and ocean cruise itineraries, and have some promotional offers just for attendees. Register for your complimentary tickets today.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Resevations Now Open for Celebrity's Newest Ship - Celebrity Edge

Celebrity Edge sets sail on Dec. 16, 2018. Reservations opened today for this amazing new ship, that will revolutionize cruising once again. Contact me at 317.776.1733 for info and pricing or Alternating between the eastern and western Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale, this new ship shouldn't be missed.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Chicago Travel Show Has Been So Busy!!

Time for another great day at the Chicago Travel & Adventure Show! Cuba, Europe, Cruises, Walt Disney World, and Hawaii, plus a Destination Wedding were all the hot topics yesterday...excited to learn where else I can send today's guests. If you're local, come see us! Next weekend is New York City. It's (always) the vacation booking season!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

An Alaskan Cruise. Is Alaska on Your Bucket List?


When it comes to cruises, an Alaskan cruise is in a league of its own and provides an experience of a lifetime. The voyage itself is certainly different from a typical cruise headed to the warm and sunny beach destinations of the Caribbean.  An Alaskan cruise brings forth another type of awe-inspiring beauty altogether. and provides passengers the opportunity to see pristine landscapes and wildlife in a way that they might never have experienced before. A Bucket List destination for many, Alaska is a top cruise destination. 

Here are just a few reasons why an Alaskan Cruise should be at the top of your travel list.

Cruise Lines Cater to All Ages

Once upon a time, it seemed that the vast majority of passengers on Alaskan cruises were elderly. However that has changed, and most major cruise lines, which cater to all ages, now travel to Alaska.  Disney Cruise Line, known for being family-oriented, cruises to this destination on the Disney Wonder, which has been specially retrofitted to enhance the Alaskan experience for her guests. Oceangoing cruise lines that serve the Alaska market include Princess CruisesHolland America LineRegent Seven Seas CruisesRoyal Caribbean InternationalNorwegian Cruise LinesCarnival Cruise LineCelebrity Cruise LineOceania CruisesSilversea, and Crystal Cruises. Additionally, smaller river cruise ships that serve the Alaska market include American Cruise LinesTauck, and UnCruise Adventures

Port Adventures

Regardless of age, there's something for everyone at the assorted port destinations. Examples include: children can pan for gold and watch dog sledding, adults can sample local brews and visit spectacular fjords and glaciers, and people of all ages can enjoy whale watching. For the more adventurous types, white water rafting, ziplining, or exploring glacier tops via helicopter ride can be great fun. Other more passive adventures include rides on the Alaskan railroad, shopping, and mild nature walks.  

See Glaciers

While glaciers are the most sought-after tourist attraction in Alaska, they are also endangered and are decreasing at an alarming rate. See them from the cruise ship, get closer to them via kayak, take a hiking tour, or see them from a flightseeing tour. You don't want to miss seeing this magnificent sight!

The Wildlife

Alaska is known for magnificent wildlife, which you may first glimpse from the deck of your ship. Just imagine seeing humpback whales, orca whales, beluga whales, and dolphins, as you enjoy a meal or relax. You will also have the opportunity to take port excursions, enabling you to get close to native wildlife, which may include bears, elk, bald eagles, moose, and much more. It is a bird-lovers paradise, with hundreds of different varieties just waiting to be spotted. Be sure to bring along binoculars! 


Cruise Season

The Alaskan cruise season is much shorter than in other areas of the world. The cruise ships first arrive in mid to late April, and all depart by mid-September.  

Itinerary Options

There are numerous itinerary options and ways to experience Alaska, which allows you to find the best fit for you. There are four basic ways to cruise Alaska:

  1. Round-trip, sailing from either Vancouver, Seattle, and sometimes San Francisco, which will head north, typically through the Inside Passage, stopping in a handful of ports, and then return back to the originating port. 
  2. Northbound one-way, which sails from Vancouver or Seattle heading north, again typically through the Inside Passage with multiple stops along the way, and then ending in the Anchorage area to either Whittier or Seward.  Guests then disembark the ship and board the Alaskan railroad for the 2+ hour train trip to Anchorage, where they would then fly home. 
  3. Southbound one-way, which is the opposite of the northbound, as guests would fly into Anchorage, and then ride the Alaskan railroad south to Seward or Whittier to board their ship. The ship would then sail through the assorted ports of call, down through the Inside Passage, and then on to Vancouver or Seattle, where guests would disembark and fly home.
  4. CruiseTour, which is a combination of a pre or post-cruise land experience coupled with the cruise itself.  Guests can choose between 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, or even 7-day land experiences that include visits to Denali National Park and other exciting destinations throughout southern and central Alaska or Vancouver.  Typically a pre-cruise tour will find guests flying into Fairbanks and beginning their land experiences and ending in Anchorage for the journey south on the Alaskan railroad to board their ship for a southbound cruise; though there are land experiences that begin in the Vancouver area with guests touring Whistler and the surrounding areas of Canada. Post-cruise tours are similar, just taking place after the cruise.   

On Sale soon

The 2017 Alaskan itineraries are going to be released by the cruise lines very soon. Typically they release their coming year's schedule in late February or very early March, though Celebrity's 2017 sailings are already on sale. For more information and to learn more about Alaskan cruises, call Christopher today at 855.776.1733, or complete this link!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Featured Foto Friday - Details Matter

Attention to detail is one of the things that Disney is often cited for as one of the "Disney Differences" - not just in its' theme parks and resorts division, but also onboard its' ships of the Disney Cruise Line.  Check out this hallway from the Disney Wonder, found in the Route 66 area on Deck 3, an entertainment zone which houses 3 different lounges (WaveBands, Cadillac Lounge and Diversions), which offer various family-friendly activities during the day, but transforms to an adults-only zone after 9 pm each day.  

Not only are the walls painted to resemble the sky, and the various wall decorations resemble road side signs (which by the way are recreations of actual roadside signs that once graced the famed Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, just west of Los Angeles), but the carpeting plays a big, important role as well.  You can literally travel from Chicago to L.A. by way of the floor!  The entire route and various surrounding communities is shown in the carpeting, ending at the Pacific Ocean.  So even onboard the Disney Wonder, you can essentially get your kicks, on Route 66! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sail Away With Us 2014

Join me next January in escaping the winter cold & snowy doldrums by exploring the wonders of the Western Caribbean!  Enjoy a nearly all-inclusive vacation onboard Royal Caribbean's enchanting ship, the Oasis of the Seas!  Book with us and receive an amazing onboard savings coupon booklet, plus $75 Onboard Credit plus a complimentary bottle of wine in your stateroom.  Starting at just $879 per person, you too could enjoy an amazing week in the sunny, warm waters of the Caribbean visiting Cozumel, Falmouth & Labadee.  Sailing from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, this is one winter vacation you won't forget!  For more information or to register, visit the link below.  Space is limited.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Spotlight - Oasis of the Seas

Royal Caribbean International® boasts 22 majestic ships in its’ fleet, including six different classifications of ships, based on size, amenities and overall design features.  These classes include:  Oasis Class, Freedom Class, Voyager Class, Radiance Class, Vision Class and Sovereign Class – and an entirely new class – the Quantum Class - just introduced to the world with construction beginning on two new ships for the class to set sail some time in 2015 and 2016.  Today we’ll be looking at the signature ship in the Oasis Class, the Oasis of the Seas® which set sail on her maiden voyage in December 2009, and is considered the ship that revolutionized cruising through its groundbreaking design introducing seven distinct neighborhoods built for ultimate enjoyment in family-friendly cruising. The Oasis of the Seas provides wonderful experiences for multi-generational family travel as well, with a wide array of onboard experiences for all ages. 

Onboard guests can delight to a wide array of relaxation, dining and entertainment options, including, hopping on a classic carousel on the Boardwalk®, then watch acrobats splash down in the AquaTheater, the first amphitheater at sea.  Let imaginations soar in the Youth Zone—the largest kids' area at sea—or at the Pool & Sports Zone, where you'll find FlowRider® surf simulators and zip line views.  Unwind with a stroll in Central Park®—a meandering garden lined with shops and fine restaurants—the first time actual trees have been planted onboard a ship!  Melt away stress at VitalitySM Spa.  Jazz up your evening with Broadway hit Hairspray, or hit the Royal Promenade for memorable moments with DreamWorks® Experience characters.  Join us onboard the ship that changed cruising – a world where innovation rules. 

VitalitySM. © Royal Caribbean International®
Rest & Relaxation:  Full-service VitalitySM Spa with thermal suite and an extensive treatment menu. State-of-the-art Fitness Center. Central Park® outdoor garden with galleries, restaurants and a Coach® store. Four pools including the Solarium, an adults-only retreat. Ten whirlpools, two of them cantilevered whirlpools overlooking the ocean. Concierge Club and Diamond Lounge. 

Dining Options:  Main Dining Room, 14 more complimentary options including Park Cafe, Windjammer Cafe, Solarium Bristo and room service, Casual dining and snacks at Johnny Rockets®, Cupcake Cupboard and Seafood Shack and more.   Specialty restaurants are also available for one low cover charge: 150 Central Park, Chops Grille steakhouse, and Giovanni's Table Italian restaurant.  Starbucks, Izumi Asian cuisine, and Vintages wine bar for an array of tempting tapas.  Central Park dining package at $65 per guest, includes Giovanni's Table Italian Trattoria, 150 Central Park fine-dining restaurant and Chops Grille steakhouse.  Chef's Dining Package, at $120 per guest, includes the five-course, gourmet Chef's Table and wine pairing, 150 Central Park.  Chops Grille, Choice of Dining Package, at $50 per guest, includes Chops Grille, Giovanni's Table and a choice of Izumi Asian Cuisine or Solarium Cafe.  

©Royal Caribbean International®, Casino Royale®
Entertainment & Shopping:  Complimentary Broadway hit Hairspray, Complimentary AquaTheater shows, ice shows and other live entertainment.  Casino Royale® with 464 slots and 27 tables, Bars, lounges, and nightclubs that never have a cover, including live jazz club, karaoke bar, and comedy club.  Parties and parades on the Royal Promenade.  Surf's Up Party, a reservation-only themed party in the Seafood Shack with the restaurant’s most popular dishes and 3 non-alcoholic beverages for a cover charge of $15 per guest or 3 alcoholic beverages for a cover charge of $25 per guest.  Variety of name-brand, duty-free shopping in Central Park® and the Royal Promenade.

©Royal Caribbean International® , FlowRider® 
©Royal Caribbean International® DreamWorks® Experience
Kids and Families:  Complimentary DreamWorks® Experience - memorable moments including character dining, parades, and meet & greets with favorite characters from Shrek®, Madagascar®, Kung Fu Panda® and more.  Complimentary Adventure Ocean® Youth Program. Royal Babies® and Royal Tots® programming.  Teen lounge areas and disco.  H2O Zone kids' water park.  3D movie theater.  Two FlowRider® surf simulators.  Two rock-climbing walls, Zip line, full-sized basketball court.  Ice-skating rink, Mini-golf course and Hand-carved carousel. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Tips on Thursday - Stateroom Selection

Cruise Ship Stateroom Selection OR How to Find the Smoothest Ride and Figuring Out Pricing

When trying to make a determination as to where to stay onboard a cruise ship, there are two main considerations to make – what kind of stateroom (the category) that you would like, and where the stateroom is located on the ship.  Both of these factors come in to play when looking to find the best price and the overall smoothness of the ride throughout your voyage.  In order to fully examine finding the best price and the smoothness factor, first we must look at the four basic types of staterooms found on nearly all cruise ships. 
Disney Cruise Line, Disney Dream: Inside Stateroom
  • Inside – Inside staterooms are typically found on the inner side of the hallways, across from the outside of the ship. Inside staterooms tend to be the least expensive category onboard as they will be pitch black when you shut the door and turn out the lights as they do not have any windows, or any way to see the outside world at all.  Most modern ships offer them, but there aren’t as many onboard as there once were, as many ships utilize the majority of that space for crew space or other needs such as Kids Clubs, Business Facilities such as Conference Rooms, guest laundry spaces or other functions.  There is one line, however, who offers Inside Staterooms WITH a view to the outside world.  With the introduction of the Disney Dream in 2011 and the Disney Fantasy in 2012, Disney Cruise Line introduced the innovative “virtual portholes” to its inside staterooms.  These “windows” are actually round video screens that look like porthole windows, and feature a live feed from cameras facing out from the sides of the ship.  These staterooms, while still the most inexpensive onboard, have quickly become the most popular too on Disney Cruise Line. 
Disney Cruise Line, Disney Dream:  Oceanview Stateroom
  • Outside or Oceanview – Outside staterooms are called "Outside” or “Oceanview" because they have windows where you can see outside to the ocean, but the windows do not open. The windows are typically very heavy glass portholes closer to the surface of the water, often on decks 2 and 3.  The windows themselves are designed to be almost as strong as the hull itself, and usually have heavy steel covers that can be closed and tightly screwed down in case of very strong weather conditions. Some Outside or Oceanview rooms will offer just one porthole, others offer two, and still others might offer one large porthole that might be the equivalent size of three in one.  Each line designs their ships differently, so we cannot make blanket statements that cover them all, since that’s just not possible. 
Disney Cruise Line, Disney Dream:   Oceanview with Verandah Stateroom
  • Balcony – Balcony staterooms have a verandah, or balcony, with a door that opens.  On the balcony, guests will find deck chairs, often a small table and a strong railing that must be at least 42 inches high.  Balconies vary in size, as well as the separation device between them.  Some offer a full wall for a higher degree of privacy in between neighboring rooms, while others offer less than a full wall.  
Disney Cruise Line, Disney Dream: One-Bedroom Suite
  • Suites – Suites are extra-large staterooms, but it is a mistake to assume that all suites offer a separate bedroom space, because many do not.  Keep in mind that cruise staterooms are not hotel rooms in the same manner as on land, and are never as large as a traditional hotel room.  Suites are the closest approximation, however. There are "Junior” or “Mini-Suites," "Family Suites," as well as "Owner's Suites" and “Penthouse Suites” and so many other name variations specific to each cruise line.  The overall look and feel varies by cruise line, but most of them have bathtubs, mini refrigerators, extra closet space and larger seating areas. Some include whirlpool tubs, or dining areas, or are even multi-level with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms. 

When looking at the various ships in each cruise line’s fleet, it can be said that the newest ships tend to have far more balcony cabins than the older ships do.  Simply stated, this is because balcony cabins are the most popular category across all lines.  Nearly 80% of the staterooms on the newest ships (within the past five years) offer a balcony; some luxury ships are 100% balcony staterooms.

When looking to see what location to secure a stateroom in onboard the ship, the location and category not only affect the price that you’ll pay, but also how smooth your voyage might be.  When it comes to location, the smoothest ride is going to be experienced in the mid-section of the ship, or "mid-ship,” located about half-way between the front (forward) and the back (aft).  To understand why the smoothest ride is at mid-ship, think of your childhood and playing on the equipment at the playground, specifically the teeter-totters, and the up and down motion that they make.  A ship acts very much like a teeter-totter as it glides through the ocean’s waters.  The middle of the ship is essentially the axis for the entire ship, as it goes up and down, called “pitching”, which refers to the front of the ship moving up while the back moves down. Good captains will face their ship into the waves because it is less dangerous than taking a large wave from the side, so pitch is more common than “rolling”, which refers to the motion moving from side to side, which happens when a ship takes waves from the side versus the front.  Still imagining that teeter-totter, the ship’s fulcrum is the water line.  The closer to the water line, in the mid-ship section, the less motion is felt, while more motion is felt in the forward and the aft.  So, the “best” stateroom location for movement purposes is on a lower deck in the mid-ship. Of course the size of the individual ship comes into play as well, with the larger ships pitching and rolling a lot less than smaller ships do, as the smaller ships are more prone to respond to every wave than the larger ships.

The pitching and rolling effect experienced during your voyage is what may cause trouble for you, if you are prone to sea sickness.  The rougher the seas, the more difference it can make.  If you ARE prone to sea sickness, do anything you can to stay away from the forward staterooms, as this section will experience the most nauseating motion, thanks to that teeter-totter affect.  Aft staterooms also can experience some of it as well, though nowhere as much as the forward. 

Now that you’ve considered the various stateroom categories, and the locations of the ship, why are some stateroom sub-categories higher than others, price wise?  Each basic category is often broken down even further into sub-categories, which can have very different price points just within the main category.  And pricing all comes down a couple of primary factors:  location on the ship, and supply and demand. 

·         Many categories might be available on multiple decks, while some might only be available on specific decks.  Within those category sub-sets, location onboard comes into play as well.  Oftentimes the lower priced staterooms within a category sub-set might be in the highest “traffic” areas, or be balcony rooms with an “obstructed” view (either obstructed by lifeboats, of structural aspects of the ship itself or something else).

·         As individual categories sell out, the price for remaining stateroom inventory within a specific category or sub-category goes up, and once inventory at specific price-points is gone, it’s gone.  So be warned if you are looking to cruise in the future and you want a specific stateroom category (or even a specific stateroom), book early as the closer you get to the sailing date, the less likely you are to be able to secure exactly what you want. The old adage “the early bird gets the worm” certainly applies in the cruise industry as well, of course, here it’s the “the early booking gets the prime locations and prices.”  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Saturday Savers - Saving While Onboard Ship

A cruise vacation can be a wonderful, relaxing, nearly all-inclusive experience (getting all of your onboard meals, accommodations, all onboard entertainment, and transportation to various ports of call included in your cruise fare) – but unless you have booked on a luxury line (a la Seabourn, Oceania or Regent Seven Seas), do keep in mind the key word NEARLY, as each of the other lines do charge for various experiences and add-ons that are not included in your cruise fare.  Today we’ll take a look at just a few of these items, and how you might save money with each one while onboard the ship.

Once onboard, you’ll find that ships today have a wide array of add-on or “plussing” that you can do to enhance your vacation experience.  Whether that includes shopping, dining in specialty restaurants vs. the traditional dining rooms, enjoying alcoholic beverages, shore excursions or playing your favorite games in the casino (for those ships that have one)… saving money onboard really boils down to what YOU deem to be necessary or not to the betterment of your vacation experience.  

Generally, the following categories, while nice enhancements to your fun – aren’t very good overall values onboard, and could save you a lot of money if you avoid them.  However, if you absolutely cannot skip them – there are a few tips in each one that might help you at least improve the overall value for you, and reduce your personal expense.

1. Onboard Photographers
In the days before digital cameras, onboard photography was a huge money maker for the cruise lines, as they would each staff their ships with multiple roaming photographers, capturing the crowds every night, and then printing out every decent image putting it on display in their photo galleries for all to see and peruse.  Many guests would then buy multiple shots to take home as souvenirs from their cruise experience.  But with the advent of digital photography, not as many guests are buying the photos any more, despite the cruise lines still printing them and putting them on display.  The cost of each print has risen through the years, with the average cost of an 8x10 image hovering around $10.  Nevermind that guests can take very similar shots of their own with their own cameras, and then print them at home at their local drug store or big box store for around $1 each – or less, depending on the size.  Guests can very easily take hundreds, if not thousands of their own photos.  The packages on board aren’t worth the extra cost, in my opinion.  Selecting one or two images from the onboard photographers can still make for a nice souvenir memory, without breaking the bank.

2.  Casinos
Playing a slot machine every now and again can be a fun way to spend a few dollars, but beware, onboard casinos generally do not pay out as handsomely as land-based casinos do (but then, Las Vegas doesn’t even pay out as much as it once did).  While it can be said that some people in the past have succeed in winning big jackpots onboard ships, most of the time it just doesn’t happen.  If you choose to partake of the gaming opportunities onboard, set a very strict limit for yourself, and do not exceed it.  Determine what you are willing to lose before you ever step foot onboard, and then if and when it happens, don’t let yourself be disappointed.  However, if you then decide it’s okay to exceed your pre-determined limit, you will a) be disappointed and b) start to rack up extra costs that you did not budget for in your vacation calculation, and you will be spending more than you bargained for.  The best way to save money onboard a ship with a casino, is simply to not enter the casino in the first place. 

3. Gratuities
Just as they are on land in table service restaurants and so many other places, gratuities and service charges are a part of cruising. You should pay the recommended daily amount and no more or less. Every single drink and specialty restaurant meal that you sign for already includes a service charge added to the price.  Unless you absolutely feel that an extra tip is warranted, don’t write in an extra amount in the space that you will see for an additional tip. You have already paid the service charge, so there is no reason to pay an additional tip.  If you do want to give a crewmember a special tip you should hand it to them in cash very discretely.  Any gratuities that you give by signing a tab or charge slip will most likely be put into a pool and shared by all the people in that department.  Even though pre-paying your gratuities is not saving money, in doing so, you are lessening the outlay that you must make while onboard ship.  Since all cruise lines require full payment about 60 days prior to departure (a few are 75-90 days),  your vacation is essentially paid in full months before you even leave port.  Anything that you do onboard then is extra and must be paid for prior to disembarking the ship.  It is easier to just pre-pay the gratuities, funding that cost with the overall cruise fare, and not having to worry about an additional outlay while onboard ship.

4. The Spa
The Spa is a wonderful place for an indulgence; however, we must recognize that cruise ships generally charge higher spa prices than many of the tony resorts and spas on land, and much higher prices than some of the newer massage franchises like Massage Envy. Expect to pay as much as $125 for a 60-minute massage, two to three times what a professional massage therapist will charge on land.

To get the most out of your spa appointment we suggest booking a morning appointment. Most masseuses onboard work all day, and they get tired. Because of their busy schedule they also do not work as hard as many land-based massage therapists. The standard massage treatment on a cruise ship is a "Swedish Massage," also known as "classic massage." You should know that Swedish is a style of massage that does not necessarily focus on deep tissue work. It involves long, flowing strokes, rubbing and kneading. But if you have a knot in your neck or under your shoulder blade what you need is deep tissue work.  If you want a therapeutic massage its suggested that you ask for a deep tissue massage.  A great way to save money is to schedule your massage for a day when the ship is in port, as many cruise lines discount the spa services on port days – sometimes as much as 50% vs. sea days. 

Another aspect of cruise ship massage sessions is the hard sell at the end of the session for additional products and services such as lotions, bath salts, and more.  There is no stopping this, so there’s not need to be upset by it.  Simply be polite and let them know that you understand it is their job to offer these products and services, but let them know that you won’t be purchasing them… you’ll just be enjoying the afterglow of your massage, and then be on your way. Then thank them and leave.  Also be sure to watch out for available services such as “fat burning wraps” that claim to take off inches from your body immediately, at very high prices.  They don’t work, and you’ll be burning the money in your pocket faster than the wraps claim they can take fat off your body. 

5. Beverages – Both Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic
While onboard ship, many people enjoy partaking of a few drinks, and the cruise lines certainly do make it easy with multiple bars and lounges scattered about, and wandering servers carrying trays of beverages just waiting to be purchased.  Add in the “drink of the day” that the ships offer, and wham, the availability is very prevalent.  But be warned…drinks onboard ship can be very expensive, and your bar bill can add up very quickly if you are not careful.

Some cruise lines do allow you to bring your own alcohol onboard – but you must know the rules in order to be successful with this.  For example, Royal Caribbean will allow you to bring one bottle of wine or other alcohol onboard to be consumed in your room.  Disney Cruise Line will also allow you to bring it onboard to be consumed in your room.  As will the ships owned by the Carnival Corporation – Carnival, Cunard, Princess, Holland America & Costa).  Each line will have a corkage fee if you take the bottle in to the dining room for dinner.  No lines allow you to consume alcohol that you bring onboard in public spaces (other than the dining room).

Many cruise lines offer drink packages where you can drink as much as you want for a set amount per day. Some of these packages are for alcoholic beverages, while others are for non-alcoholic beverages such as soft drinks.  Each line is different in what they offer, but if you consume multiple beverages in a day at a la carte pricing, you will very likely save money by going with the offered package.  With the exception of the luxury lines, Disney Cruise Line is the only one to provide soft drinks included in the cruise fare. 

Be advised that it is not wise to attempt to skirt the rules regarding bringing prohibited beverages onboard ship.  Luggage is x-rayed prior to embarkation, and the cruise lines will remove any contraband beverages that they find, holding it in the ship’s storage, until disembarkation when you will receive it back again. 

6. Internet Access
Internet access is by far the newest money maker for the cruise lines, as more and more people who go on vacation, are unable to completely disconnect from their lives at home.  From the vast array of electronic goodies that people use, and all of the demands from home, remaining connected is very important to a large number of travelers.  And the cruise lines know it, and charge handsomely for the luxury or remaining connected – often as much as 75-cents per minute of connectivity. Truly the only way to save money onboard is to simply log off.  However, if you cannot do so, here are a few tips regarding onboard electronics & connecting to the internet:

  •  iPads…you can use your iPad on a cruise ship, but keep in mind you do not want to stay logged onto your account while typing up an email. iPads are generally designed to be used only while connected to the Internet, using your webmail instead of an email program, for example. The same is true of workstations in a cruise ship's Internet center.
  • Laptops… these will give you the ability to sign on only long enough to pick up new email messages. You can then compose your replies offline and then sign on again long enough to send them. Laptops also give you a place to offload your digital camera pictures in memory so you can shoot more pictures.
  • Cell phones… if you take a cell phone onboard never use it to access the Internet. You will have to pay a data roaming charge that will generally cost about $5 per megabyte. Your cell phone should have an option to disable "data roaming" which you must use.  The best thing to do with your cell phone, is to turn it off once you set sail and don’t turn it back on again until you return to your home port.  Once you leave port, even before getting to international waters, you will be roaming, and international roaming is very expensive with the various cell providers.  If you must have cell phone access while onboard – it would be cheaper to invest in an international cell phone, and simply keep it for all trips that take you to international destinations than to use your regular cell phone. 
  • Texting… here is another warning regarding text messages. Even with data roaming turned off be very careful of incoming text messages. If someone sends you a picture by text message and you open it, you will be charged the data roaming rate even if you have data roaming turned off;  the cost of data roaming on a cruise ship is $25 per megabyte or higher.

Be sure to check with your individual cell phone provider regarding their charges and policies before setting sail.  Ask them specifically about the charges for the countries that your itinerary will be visiting, and what the charges are for roaming services.  Then you can make an informed decision and better understand what your costs will be when you return home once more. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday Savers - Getting the Best Cruise Value

When planning your family's next big cruise vacation, finding the best values will make you a hero, especially if you have funds left over for some cool "extras" that you might not have thought possible when first putting your budget together.  The key is to finding the right money saving tricks.  Here are just a few to consider that can, when added together, provide some serious monetary value for your vacation:

  • Book early.  When I say early, I mean up to a year or more in advance.  Yes, those last-minute "deals" might seem tempting and the way to go, but do realize that last minute also equals slim pickings in choice of category or room location, if there is any availability at all in your desired room type.  When planning your vacation, know that the best deals and the best selection goes to those who plan ahead... 8, 12 or even 15 months or more in advance.  For the cruise lines, the months of January - March are considered "Wave Season", providing the most significant discounts, upgrades and freebies for those guests who plan ahead.  October is another key month when additional discounts and offers are available for those who plan ahead.  
  • Book a package.  More and more many cruise lines are offering package deals on specialty dining, wine and excursions with discounts of up to 25% over a la carte pricing, effectively creating more of an all-inclusive atmosphere onboard.  As an example, Norwegian Cruise Line offers packages of 3 specialty restaurant dinners for just $47 per person, which is a great savings vs. buying them individually onboard. 
  • Go all-inclusive.  The larger mass-appeal cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, etc, will charge for beverages, shore excursions, specialty dining, gratuities and more all as add-on fees once on board.  Luxury lines such as Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea, etc, have become much more value-conscious in the past couple of years by offering an all-inclusive experience... one price gets it all included.  Regent Seven Seas goes even further, by bundling in guests' airfare and all shore excursions.  So even though the total price might be slightly higher when comparing the luxury lines to the mass lines, the overall experience and satisfaction is likely to be better thanks to a more rewarding experience with a higher staff-to-guest ratio, and more intimate ships.
  • Sail the off-season.  Many lines offer reduced fares for re-positioning cruises (i.e. moving ships from destination to destination, such as prior to or after the conclusion of the Alaska season, or moving through the Panama Canal from the Atlantic itineraries to Pacific itineraries, etc).  Another off-season time is early December, before the Christmas holidays and peak pricing.  
  • Use the services of an experienced cruise agent.  Choosing a cruise might seem simple - just look at the options and pick one, right?  Not necessarily, as even similar-looking itineraries can yield vastly different experiences. Cruise agents are experienced travelers and experts in their profession, helping to navigate the sometimes choppy waters of the vast array of options, lines, stateroom categories and so much more.  Experienced cruise agents work with each individual client to craft the best possible vacation experience for that client's needs and desires.  No one-size-fits-all website provider will do that!  Plus experienced cruise agents will be able to find the best value for their clients, even though the best value isn't always the lowest price.  Though they do often go hand in hand, remember that "value" and "price" are not one and the same.     What is a "great" value to you, might not be held in the same esteem to your friend or neighbor, even if you each paid the exact same amount of money.  While you might view the price paid as the most important aspect, your friend might view the intrinsic value of the overall experience(s) enjoyed as more important than the monetary value of the price paid.  Value and price are not one and the same, and experienced cruise agents work to match the client to the experience, whereas most websites simply offer cruises as products to be purchased for a set price, regardless of whether or not it is the best value for you, the individual.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

stopher's stuff - WONDERful Memories, Fun & More

Wonderful is truly the best word that I can use for my experience on board the Disney Wonder last week.  The sailing was smooth, the food very good, and the service was once again exemplary.  Disney Cruise Line has certainly earned the various accolades from within the cruise industry that they have received. Regardless of how much I spent on my cruise, which was a lot less than the average guest since I was on board for educational and research purposes – the service provided not only met my expectations, but exceeded it. 

I was able to participate in an Agent Education Program, or AEP, where the host line brings travel professionals onboard in order to experience a particular ship for themselves, and then be able to better share the ship and the line with clients and potential clients, making recommendations where appropriate. Being onboard with nearly 90 other travel advisors and agents might make one think that we were receiving special treatment, but I can gladly say that I observed time and time again the same or better service being provided to the full fare-paying guests. 

Some of the many AEP participants from Cruise Planners,
 inside Diversions, one of the adult spaces on board,
following the first class session
Throughout the week, as a group, we were in seminars for 2 to 3 hours each morning.  It was a great experience to be able to meet so many fine people, who like me, enjoy putting together remarkable vacations for their clients, helping them to create memories to last a lifetime.  And through it all, I have made several new friends for a lifetime.  We enjoyed sharing best practices with each other, learning tips and new ideas for sharing the magic of the Disney brand with our clients and potential clients, and got to have some fun together as well. This AEP was put on by the good folks at Disney Destinations, and included three great presenters, one of which has been with Disney for 24 years.  (She certainly knows her stuff!)  Following the morning seminars, we were free to enjoy the ship (or ports of call when appropriate) until show time in the evening.  Then we had the shows, a few informal meet & greets, and second seating dinner after that.  Both were on our agendas, and we were expected to partake of them all, though a couple of times during the week the presenters said attendance at the shows was optional. 

Though our group did have a few pairs of husband and wife, the vast majority of the participants in this AEP were traveling solo.  All of the single travelers had a roommate – some we knew from previous experiences – and others who were meeting for the very first time.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I already knew my roommate, and we’d been planning for this trip for the week or two leading up to the sailing.  It was fun to further cement that friendship, while also meeting new friends along the way.   
Just as the families and friends sailing together onboard do, we ate at the same table each night with assigned table mates, and enjoyed the rotational dining program in each of the beautiful dining rooms on the ship. Just because it was a special program, didn’t mean we received special treatment.  (On this cruise, my favorite meal came from Parrot Cay, unlike when I sailed on the Disney Magic with my lovely bride in October – where my favorite meal came from Animator’s Palette).   Many fun conversations and much laughter came during our dinner conversations.  Table 7 certainly had some fun times together. 

Here I am, in Cozumel, with some rain clouds in the background
In each of our ports of call – Grand Cayman and Cozumel – a number of the agents went off to enjoy and explore the ports together, while others did so solo.  I enjoyed both ports on a solo basis, and then later enjoyed hearing of my various compatriot’s tales about their experiences in both ports.  I will share more about my personal experiences in another entry yet to come. 

The weather on our sailing was mostly superb.  We did get some rain on and off throughout the day we were in Cozumel, and our last at-sea day was windy – very windy – not just the regular breezes you feel as sailing along either – but very windy, which did produce a little more wave action.  Even though I didn’t, a few members of our group were feeling a bit nauseous for the first time all week as a result of the stronger winds.  The sunshine and warmth was a welcome sight after dark grey clouds and rain in Cozumel.   

College of Disney Knowledge sling backpack,
Disney Parks branded pedometer, small tin of DCL logo
bookclips, Graduation Certificate, 3 pins & lanyard, our
choice of one onboard photo, and the training manual
Exclusive AEP Graduate Pin
I will say though, that even though we didn’t receive any special treatment throughout the week, we were given a small tchotchke at the conclusion of each seminar, and at the end of the week treated to a nice reception / graduation ceremony on the final afternoon of our cruise.  It was a nice cocktail reception, and we each received our completion certificate and a special pin.  Here’s a photo of the few things that we received.  Other than these things just mentioned, nothing special was done or provided.  Will these things by themselves help me to promote the Disney Cruise Line over any other line?  

Absolutely not – but – the experience and additional knowledge gained about the ship itself and the rest of the DCL fleet – will help me to recommend DCL whenever appropriate.  There is such a perception out there that DCL is just for families, and that is certainly just not true.  When working with clients, I always want to make sure that I am recommending the best experience for their individual needs and desires.  I want to make sure that my clients have the best possible time and get the best value for their hard-earned money.  Many times that will include DCL in my recommendations, but there are times that it just won’t.  Bringing home a couple of pins, a certificate and the like won’t change that.  After all – it’s their vacation at stake, not mine.  The best value and experience to one client will not be identical to another client – so being able to match them up with the best possible experiences is critical.  And AEPs such as this one that I just completed help those of us who sell travel to be able to speak from experience – not just be items to select from on a nameless, faceless website.  I like to treat each client with friendly, personable and professional one-on-one service.  I don’t just view my clients as another number or sale.  I appreciate each and every one, and at the end of the day, want to know that the recommendations that I make truly are the best for each client.  So these types of familiarization trips are not only nice, but necessary. 

So with that, I will bid you adieu for now, or as they say on board… til we meet again, 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tips on Thursday - New Family-Friendly Options from Royal Caribbean

First, they had the “DreamWorks Experience”, now Royal Caribbean is prepping to further expand their family-friendly offerings - especially for young girls who love all things Barbie – by introducing the all-new "Premium Barbie Cruise Experience”. 

The new experience debuted in January on select ships and will be introduced fleetwide by March.  This newest offering will give Barbie fans, both young and young-at-heart, the opportunity to delight in all things Barbie.  For a cost of $349 per person, you can enjoy a wildly pink-decorated stateroom containing a souvenir tote bag, tiaras and teacups, toothbrush and toiletries, pillowcases, a Barbie blanket, and specially designed nautical outfits for your very own Barbie. (Don’t forget to pack your own Barbie, as the doll itself is not included).

Barbie, first introduced in 1959.  © Mattel, Inc
Continuing the experience, guests will be relieved to know that yes, there’s more!  Each Barbie Experience also includes Barbie related activities on board ship, including the Barbie Design Workshop where you can  create your own outfits for your Barbie doll, and show them off on the "pink carpet" in the Barbie Fashion Show.  And of course the experience would not be complete without a Barbie-themed tea party - the "Tiaras and Teacups Party", which is an invitation-only affair with a palate of pink pastries and pink lemonade to round out the fun.  But wait, there’s more, following the tea party, guests will then join in a Barbie “Mermaid Dance Class" to learn the various from the movie, Barbie in Mermaid Tale 2.

Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for Royal Caribbean, Vickie Freed, who admits to owning over 200 Barbie dolls, took a major part in the planning and negotiations for this new cruise experience together with the folks at Mattel, who market and sell the Barbie collections, including the Barbie Cruise Vacation Doll, which was already part of their collection prior to this new partnership, but will be sold on board all Royal Caribbean ships hereafter.  Barbie was created by Ruth Handler in 1959 and she modeled and named the doll after a German adult toy doll called Bild Lilli.

To book your Premium Barbie Cruise Experience or to learn more about Royal Caribbean, or cruising in general, be sure to visit my website or simply call 317.776.1733.