Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shore Excursions, TRAVEL

Missteps in Monaco

I love to travel, but I’d be the first to admit it can be stressful and falling out of step with your traveling companion is not all that hard to do.  On most of our trips, we can point to the place where things did not go as smoothly as we might have wished.  On this Mediterranean Marathon, Monte Carlo was our trouble spot.

Imprecise Planning

For days now, we’d been working hard on having a good time.  I had anticipated, by the time we reached this mid-point of the cruise, we’d be in dire need of an easy day.  We’d gone back and forth several times on how we should spend the our time. 

For the sake of our finances, I had suggested we just do Monte Carlo on our own, since it was a pretty small place.  Then, perhaps after dinner, we’d check out the possibility of going to the Casino.  Yes, that Casino, where James Bond and various other movie characters so often hang out.

However, Bill always prefers to have a guide for the sake of security.  So, we booked a nice bus tour that would end up in Eze, a medieval hilltop town someone had recommended to us.  Then, we unbooked it, because an evening event was offered that we couldn’t pass up.  We were back to seeing Monte Carlo on our own, if we were going to see it at all.

We decided to play the rest of it by ear, which is always a dangerous thing, but I didn’t know exactly what else to do.

An Easy Morning

Things started out quite well.  We slept in a little, enjoyed the buffet for breakfast and then went on a photo safari.  This is usually one of our favorite things to do on a cruise.  We spend most of our days at sea covering every inch of the ship we have access to, taking lots of pictures and nibbling throughout the dining rooms.

This photo safari started like many others, but we weren’t at sea.  We were moored in the harbor of the beautiful principality of Monaco.  The gorgeous city of Monte Carlo was beckoning to us.  We just weren’t sure what to do about it.

The Dissonance Begins

Suddenly Bill wanted to go ashore.  I wanted to accommodate him, but I didn’t have so much as a brochure or map when he began to pepper me with logistical questions.  All I could tell him was we were supposed to go to the photo studio in about an hour to see our ceremony pictures and that the evening shore excursion would start shortly after 3:30.  He didn’t care about either of those and I didn’t even know exactly what time it was to guess how much time we’d have.

He decided we should go to Guest Relations and see if we could sign up for a shore excursion or get some information.  We were standing at the elevator to go up to Guest Relations when I heard a familiar laugh.  The door opened up and there were all our friends!

Being Spontaneous

Our friends were headed down to catch one of the tenders and go ashore.  Bill and I looked at each other and jumped on the elevator.  About all we had were our room cards.  I had on what might loosely be called lounging pajamas, a pair of flip flips and not even a touch of makeup.  I’d pulled my hair back into a ponytail.  Bill had on standard tourist gear and thankfully had his billfold in his pocket.

I tried to get a message to the photographer that we had been kidnapped, but communication is not easy on a cruise ship.  Back at the room I might have been able to find a number for her, but we didn’t go by the room.  I also had a guide book for Monaco in the room, but it wasn’t doing me much good there.

We were off with nothing that even looked like a plan.  I was immediately aware that we were headed for trouble, but I didn’t know of anyway to head it off.  Come back next week and see how things pan out.

Accommodations, Cruising, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Bridal Dinner in the Normandie

TRAVEL THERE: THE FUN JUST DOESN’T STOP

It was over.  The Vow Renewal Ceremony I’d been planning for so long was now in the review mirror.  With that behind me I set out to enjoy the rest of our cruise, beginning with dinner in The Normandie.

The Normandie

Dining on the Celebrity Edge was fun.  With four complimentary dining rooms to choose from, rather than the usual one, you had variety, but what you gained in variety, you missed out on personalized service.

The Normandie was touted as the cream of the crop with a French twist.  I can’t think of a single thing that was wrong, besides the anonymity of it all.  We showed up and they had the usual flurry of figuring out our beverage plans.  The menu was divided into the three sections the other menus had.  I don’t remember being wowed by any of the offerings, nor do I have a clue what I actually ate.

Except for dessert.  I do remember dessert! The Aisle to Isle package offered a small cake for the bride and groom, but I had them upsize it to include plenty for everyone.  Like many wedding cakes it was more beautiful than it was delicious.  Fondant makes for pretty cakes, but is there anyone who actually likes to eat it?

The Company

While I might not have a lot to say about the restaurant, the company could not have been better.  I sat there at that table feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.  I feel that way often, but rarely with so many reasons.

We were on an amazing ship, headed to incredible destinations, with the best of friends.  We were celebrating a wonderful 25 year marriage and had pledged to continue to keep the promises we had made so long ago.  I am married to the handsomest man in the world and he loves me, in spite of all my flaws.  And did I mention what great friends I have.

Just as I can’t remember exactly what I ate this evening, I can’t recall exactly what we talked about around the table, but I know it was seasoned with a lot of laughter.  The picture of us all gathered around that table will forever stay in my mind.  The actual photos we took don’t do the evening much justice, but I’m adding them so you can enjoy them.

Turning in for the Night

There’s one more picture to show you before we move on to the next day.  Cruise ship towel animals might not seem like a big deal to you, but among the many cards spread about the room, explaining what things were, what was complimentary and what we’d have to pay for, one card explained why Celebrity no longer entertains their passengers with towel animals.

I’ve written cards and letters like that before.  When we were forcing technology down people’s throats, we used to start all the letters with, “To serve you better…”  Only we didn’t care whether it served anybody better or not.  It was just what we said.  The letters should have said, “Hey, we’ve found yet another way to cut corners, but there’s no way we’re going to pass any savings on to you, so get ready for this new thing we’ve dreamed up.”

Celebrity’s note about the towel animals began with “In order to preserve the planet…”  That’s the new phrase they came up with that everyone seems to buy into.  The towel animals were cute, but it did just sort of become yet one more schitick, and it had lost its luster.  If we had kids, towel animals might be more interesting, but I really didn’t need a new version on my bed every time I returned to the room.

However, with the absence of nightly towel animals and being made aware of Celebrity’s desire to save the planet, we were quite appreciative that they broke their own rules and gave us a couple of swans that evening.

And that’s where I’ll leave you.  We’ll be up early the next morning for Florence, so be sure to come back next week.

 

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Falling Through the Cracks

Aboard Celebrity

TRAVEL THERE: AN UNCOORDINATED EVENT COORDINATOR

Among the craziness of my first few hours on board the Celebrity Edge was a telephone chat with their Event Coordinator.  She insisted she only needed about five minutes to meet me and confirm things for my vow renewal ceremony.  That seemed fairly inadequate to me, but I thought just maybe they were that coordinated.

Bridal Hysteria

Well, to begin with, Ranee Tin wasn’t where she was supposed to be at the appointed time.  I gave it a few minutes and then let a crew member know.  The whole meeting was only supposed to last a few minutes, according to her, and my friends were waiting on me in the restaurant.

When she showed up, she had some pieces of paper and a demeanor that said she didn’t have a clue about what was going on or what was supposed to happen at my vow renewal.  To be fair, my hysteria had been mounting before I ever got on board.

For months the planning had gone swimmingly.  The descriptions of hair appointments was rather confusing, but the ladies in the Celebrity Wedding department were swell.  I was a little freaked out that nothing could be confirmed until 10 days before I sailed, but I bought into their assurances.  The Edge was a new ship and nothing was routine about events, yet.

It was still so outside of the norm 10 days before the cruise that absolutely nothing was confirmed.  The afternoon before I left I got an email that almost sent me into convulsions.  The letter wanted me to fax them a signed form and I didn’t have a fax machine.  The letter also said without the form there would be no ceremony.  After a few minutes of complete freak out, I read back through the email which contained the letter and discovered I could actually email them the signed form, but by then I’d already had several heart attacks.

It was only at that point that I discovered when and where my ceremony would be.  It was scheduled at a location that hadn’t even been mentioned throughout the entire eight months we’d been planning the event.  At that point is was too late to fret.  The die was cast.  They still couldn’t tell me what time our salon appointments would be.

Just Long Enough to Freak Me Out

Were I to have it all to do over again, I’d fork at $275 for a “Test the Waters” package that gave you

  • Pre-inspection arrangements
  • Site inspection with wedding coordinator – Total time: 90 minutes onboard
  • 30-minute tour of the wedding and reception locations
  • 30 minute consultation regarding wedding props, site photography, set-up, and any additional questions
  • 30-minute open buffet lunch

As it was, a very casual event coordinator tried to convince me in just a few moment that she had everything under control.  It wasn’t long enough.  She was asking all kinds of questions that were already answered on the pieces of paper she’d given to me.  Her biggest concern seemed to be what would happen if they couldn’t get blue ribbon for the bouquets.  I was more worried about the logistics of the whole thing.

I was in tears and trembling when she was through with me.  I’d only just managed to get the salon appointment times out of her.  About the only thing she did that gave me a warm fuzzy was a promise to iron my gown for the ceremony.  One small worry resolved, about 15 new worries to confound me.

Everyone was waiting on me for dinner, so I made a bee-line to the Cyprus restaurant.  come back next week and I’ll let you know how good that was.

 

Accommodations, ART, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Embarkation Events

The gangs all here!

TRAVEL THERE: GETTING SETTLED ON CELEBRITY EDGE

Over a year of planning came to fruition.  We sailed through customs almost too quickly to believe, thanks to the Celebrity App.  Viktoriya was there to greet us.  We threw our luggage in our stateroom and started enjoying our cruise.

Embarkation Luncheon

With all my cruising, it was actually only a few years ago learned about embarkation buffets, but I’ve developed a love hate relationship with them.  My first, on Norwegian, was memorable.  We boarded too late for the Viking buffet.  Then on the Royal Carribean cruise in 2017, the buffet was so bad, I felt like I was supposed to finish up all left over of the previous cruisers.

I expected more from Celebrity and they almost rose to the occasion.  Concierge Class passengers on the Celebrity Edge are treated to a special luncheon in the Cosmopolitan Dining Room.  I confess it wasn’t exactly a culinary triumph.  I had Chicken Paillard, but the Home Chef version I’d made myself was better.  It was served with French Fries. French Fries?!? Then the chocolate something for dessert was unremarkable.

Melanie was glad to be there!

Deborah, Viktoriya, Bill and I took our seats around the table and had just begun to order our meals, when to our utter delight I received a text letting us know Jim and Melanie had arrived at the dock.  They weren’t expected for hours yet, but they’d decided to skip their morning excursion and join us on the ship instead.

I was so happy I was almost in tears as I sat at the table and observed the people who had paid so much and come so far to help me celebrate my special occasion.

A Whirlwind of Activity

The next few hours were insane, which means choosing to forego a tour of Rome had been a good idea.  We did some reconnaissance around the ship, went to our rooms to unpack, did battle with the reservations people, had a lifeboat drill, checked out the sail away and generally tried to get plugged into everything so we could leave early in the morning on our first shore excursion.

The unpacking proved to be fairly pleasant.  There was room to stow away all our belongings, even if my gown for the ceremony did take up an unreasonable amount of the room.  Surprisingly, we had all kinds of gifts waiting for us in our cabin – flowers, wine and tapas from Rick Eberst, the Dallas-area sales rep for Celebrity, and chocolate-covered strawberries from our travel agency, CTC Travel.

There was a problem with a special meal the Bagleys and Viktoriya had booked.  The evening of the meal had been changed for weather issues.  They’d also been put on separate dining times by the ship’s crew and that just wasn’t right.  Viktoriya nearly went ballistic on them, but Jim managed to calm her down and eventually everything worked out.

I imagined Concierge Class would include a concierge somewhere on our own levels who was available 24/7.  Au Contrare!  He had very limited hours and you needed a degree in spelunking to find his “office,” which was actually just a room of desks which were shared by several services.  We had dinner reservations for the first night, but I had hoped to make reservations for the rest of the trip with our concierge – obviously it didn’t happen.  My only other interaction with the concierge was daily phone calls to give us the weather, which might or might not be accurate, and to inform us of the hour (yes, hour) our concierge would be available to us up in that little room.  None of his times of availability ever coincided with a time I was able to utilize.

I communicated with someone named Ranee Tin, the event coordinator.  She wanted to meet me before dinner to discuss the arrangements for the ceremony.  I should have known to worry when she acted as if it was no big thing.

The Sail Away was a non-event.  Other cruise lines make a bigger deal of it and quite frankly, Civitavecchia is a pretty boring port.  Somewhere along the way we visited the Art Gallery.  It was the only visit I would make on this cruise, which is odd for me, because I usually attend several art events when cruising.  It just wasn’t that sort of cruise for me, but Jim and Melanie almost lived down there and came home with several pieces of art.

Bill slept through most of this.  Eventually, I returned to the room and got dressed for our 8:30 dinner reservations.  Come back next week and we’ll have dinner in the Cyprus Restaurant.

 

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Lazy Layover & Lucky Seats

Loving the Legroom

TRAVEL THERE: THE USUAL TRAVEL RIGAMAROLE

So, we made it to Montreal with our carry-ons in our personal possession.  Our other luggage was checked through and there was a three hour lay-over, so that seemed long enough to make the transfer.  Our tromp through customs went well and soon we were in the terminal for our next flight.

Killing Some Time

After making sure we knew where our gate was, it was time to find the bar.  We found one near by and it was adequate, but the weather was dreary and the view depressing.  Fortunately the waitress was great, so killing a couple of hours was not painful.

Deb and I were giddy with excitement and ready to discuss every detail of the coming cruise ad nauseum.  Bill played along, but not with much enthusiasm.  I quizzed him to see if he actually knew where we were going.  It seemed he had a pretty good grasp of the itinerary, but time would prove some of the more pertinent the information had not really sunk in.

First we enjoyed a round of drinks and Deborah said something clever, like ‘that tasted just like time for another one.”  We opted for some snacks to go along with the second round.  Then suddenly it was past time we should be at the gate.  We took a quick glance at the boards to make sure the gate had not changed and made a run for it.

WOW, What Seats!

I have a natural distrust for the internet.  It comes from spending most of my days on it and suffering the slings and arrows of constant digital disappointment.  I’d been the one to select our seats on the Air Canada website and I thought they would be right at the front of the coach cabin, where I’d observed others all spread out in comfort.  However, I refused to believe it would be that good until we were on board.

It was that good.  The meal was OK, too.  The dessert was a disappointment, but that’s how it goes with airline food.  They picked up our trays and I asked Bill to request a second glass of wine for me.  However, I fell asleep before it was delivered and the next thing I knew, several hours had passed and it was time to head to the potty.  That went smoothly and I was soon back asleep.  Because of the position of our seats, I didn’t even have to bother anyone.

Hello Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport!

Our arrival in Rome was blissfully uneventful.  Celebrity Cruise Lines deserves kudos for the way they handle things.  From the moment we exited customs cheerful Celebrity employees with signs made sure we got to our meeting point.  The wait for our bus was perhaps longer than I wanted, but not too bad.  The drive to the port of Civitavecchia seemed interminable.

Then Viktoriya made it to the ship before us and started sending text messages.  She’d been so busy before the cruise she’d barely paid attention to all the pre-trip chatter, hence she was blown away when she boarded.  It was so exciting for me to know she was genuinely happy to be a part of it all.

We were not far behind her and soon we were all hugging and giggly.  Embarkation lunch is up next.  Join me next week!

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Let’s Drink to It

person holding a wine glasses
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

TRAVEL THERE: ON BOARD BEVERAGE PACKAGES

Hi there!  I hope your holiday were wonderful.  We were discussing wi-fi packages on the Celebrity Edge before the break and now we are moving on to beverages.

Whining About Wine Packages

My husband and I are not big drinkers.  We enjoy wine and beer, particularly with dinner, and we think a Tex-Mex meal is incomplete without a margarita, but that’s about it. Here’s our problem. Paying for drinks individually on a cruise ship can get very pricey, but trying to drink enough to justify a beverage plan can turn the whole trip into a bacchanal.

Even though we are not big drinkers, a nice dinner without wine is pretty sad.  Unfortunately, wine seems to be the biggest challenge on a cruise ship.  They’ve got great deals if you drink cocktails, but bottles of wine are a different story.  At home, we’ve learned which bargain wines suit us and the tab for each bottle hovers between $8-12.  Out and about, we drink wine by the glass and each glass is about the same price as a bottle at home, but the quality ends up being a step above our usual bargains.  Bottles of wine on a cruise are very, very much more than we’d buy at home or at a restaurant and you might get a glass for $15 or so, but the chances of getting something good for that price are iffy.  Hence our love for river cruising!

I looked at the beverage options for Celeberity Cruises online and we discussed them for days.  I finally had to ask for help.  They had something called Wine by the Bottle, which let you have a package price for bottles, but they didn’t have a wine list there and the pricing was confusing.  We got on the phone with a Celebrity rep and they cleared it up.  The price of the package was based on how many bottle  you wanted, but you’d have to wait until you were on the boat to choose the actual bottles. Still, we opted to go with that.

Theoretically, the bottles were supposed to follow you around to the various restaurants and bars. If you wanted a glass from a bottle you opened somewhere else on the boat, you just told them your name and the last place you drank from the bottle. Or you could just order a new bottle from the Wine by the Bottle wine list. It actually worked quite well. In fact, we assumed we’d just have to have one bottle going at a time, but once on board we discovered Bill could get his red and I could get my white and we’d make them last over a couple of days.

No Soda Package

When cruising I usually get a soda package.  I may not be a big alcohol drinker, but I need my caffeine and I don’t drink coffee.  On board, water, tea, coffee and several juices are always available to you.  You have to find a buffet or snack bar, but those are usually spread all over the place.  Sodas they treat like liquid gold.  Each rather small glass costs more than a Big Gulp back home and you also get hit with a gratuity every time.

The soda package makes that more affordable.  You pay one price per day for all the sodas you want to drink, but there’s one catch for me.  I am a devoted Diet Dr Pepper drinker and that’s just not available on a cruise.  While I will drink other sodas in a bind, they have to be diet and my least favorite is Diet Coke.  Celebrity proudly serves Coke products.  Coke Zero is OK, but no one could tell me whether that was available at all.  What’s more the soda comes out of a fountain machine and so far I have not found anyone on a cruise ship that can actually get it mixed right.

Bottom line, when I get the soda package, I pay a hefty price to get unlimited soda refills, but the soda is never the flavor I prefer to drink.  I come home with a cool thermal tumbler, but how many of those do you need.  This time I decided to go caffeine-less.  If I started having caffeine withdrawal, I reasoned, I could drink iced-tea.  As it turned out I was fine.

So with everything having to do with the cruise and the vow ceremony squared away, it was time to start packing.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Welcome to Concierge Class

Celebrity Edge
Celebrity Edge

TRAVEL THERE: THE SECOND MOST EXCITING DAY OF MY CRUISE

I’ve already told you about the most exciting day of my cruise.  That’s when Jim and Melanie told me they had already booked their cabin.  It was because we hadn’t and staterooms were filling fast.  By the end of the day, we had our Deluxe Ocean View Staterooom 1B with Veranda #5578.  The second most exciting day was when they assigned me to Concierge Class.

Concierge Class

I may never know exactly what happened with Celebrity, but I’m guessing my upgrade to Concierge Class had more to do with CTC Travel than it did with my social media footprint.  One day I was going to have to pay $100 per person not to look through an over-sized porthole and the next I had a free upgrade to Concierge Class.  I tell everybody, all the time, DO NOT take a cruise without a travel agent.  Let my upgrade to Concierge Class stand as evidence of my reasons.

I’m going to tell you a little secret though.  It wasn’t that big of a deal.  The Celebrity brochure promised “from the moment your Concierge greets you for priority check-in” I would be in for a treat.  Only there was no Concierge to greet me and no one had any idea of where to go for my priority check-in.  That wasn’t really a big deal, because I had the Celebrity App, which actually was a big deal and check-in was such a breeze that it might have well as been priority check-in with a Concierge.

My only interaction with said Concierge was a telephone call I got from him each day, where he’d give me the weather report for the next day (often inaccurate) and tell me the HOUR, yes the one hour, that he would be available the next day.  It was never an hour that I would actually be available to talk to him.  I was hoping said Concierge would help us out with dinner reservations, because we had found it particularly difficult to book shore excursions together, since the Bagley’s  had booked with another travel agent.  My brochure had assured me my “own dedicated Concierge” would be just steps away.  HA!  He was over the river and through the woods from our room, if he actually existed at all.  We stood in line with everyone else to square away our dinner reservations and I’ll just say it didn’t go well.

Other Amenities

But there was supposed be even more treats to come – like a destination seminar. Never a word about that on board.  We were also supposed to “open our door to a beautiful array of fresh fruit and a chilled bottle of Blanc de Blancs.”  Yeah, that was an exaggeration, too.  The local Celebrity sales rep, who I’ve gotten to know through CTC, did send us some hors d’oeuvres, some flowers and a bottle of pinot noir.  CTC gifted us with some chocolate-covered strawberries.  But fruit from the Concierge? Nope.

We did get a bottle of champagne, but it was quite a challenge.  On the first day, I told our room steward to go ahead and deliver it, because we had a frig and I could keep it cold.  As it turned out, we got it on the last day, not chilled, to bring home in our suitcase.  Not exactly as advertised.

They also promised afternoon delicacies, which they did deliver every afternoon.  We’d come in after an all day shore excursion and voila, we’d have a four-sectioned, covered plate waiting for us.  In each section would be a tiny sample of something odd.  We could rarely tell exactly what it was, which was better than the days that we could.  For instance, one day there was a teeny tiny little shrimp tooth-picked to a piece of bread.  Only our covered plate was not on ice or refrigerated and we had no idea how long it had been sitting there.  I’ve had food poisoning from seafood – no thank you very much.  One thing I never need more of on a cruise is food.

There was a pillow menu, but the pillows on the bed suited me fine and I wasn’t going to chase down any others.  The promised Hansgrohe massaging shower head was quite nice, however.  No complaints there and I’m not even the showering sort.  There was also a Welcome Luncheon for Concierge Class passengers which kept us from rubbing elbows with the likes of those who were staying in the Deluxe Ocean View Staterooom 1B with Veranda I’d first been assigned to and it was quite nice, but I’ll save the details about that until embarkation.

I guess I’ve fussed a little about about the short-comings of Concierge Class, but before they write about it in the brochure, they ought to do a little fact-checking.  I loved my stateroom, but the not the mostly unavailable Concierge, his destination seminar, fresh fruit, chilled bottle and daily delicacies.  As it was, I’d gotten a free upgrade, so who was I to complain.

Getting upgraded to Concierge Class proved to be more exciting than actually being in Concierge Class, and that’s too bad.  However, we’re getting closer to our departure, so come back next week and let’s talk about the gown for my vow renewal.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

It Wasn’t Their Fault

TRAVEL THERE: WHEN YOUR CRUISE LINE SAYS OOOOPS

I want to begin this post by saying I love Sandra Rubio and CTC Travel.  They have been more than good to me.  They get all my lavish dreams and help me balance them with my frugal husband’s concerns.  They have wonderful travel events.  They treat me like a star, even though my travel is small beans in comparison to some of their clients.  When I get all flustered and frustrated, Sandra is a rock.  I’m about to complain, but I want you to know I’m not complaining about Sandra or CTC.  In fact, they saved the cruise!

Obstructed View

I wasn’t exactly sure what Celebrity meant when I read “obstructed view” in an email from my travel agent.  I’m actually a pretty easy-going traveller.  Some people think obstructed view means that if you stand on your tiptoes and hold your head just right, then a tiny corner of the balcony above you can be seen.  That’s not me.

Then I saw they were talking about and they were 100% right.  I was going to have an obstructed view.  It was like a porthole view, not a veranda view.  I’d booked my cabin 18 months ahead and NOW, after I’d already booked my non-refundable air they were telling me about an obstructed view.

I’d booked the cabin especially, to be close to Eden, because I saw that as a sort of gathering spot for all of us who were traveling together.  Then when we booked the vow renewal ceremony, I’d requested for it to be in Eden for all kinds of reasons.  I was emotionally married to this Deluxe Ocean View State Room w/ Veranda 1B and now it was flawed!  You might say I was even a little hysterical.

I’m a reasonable person and while I wasn’t crazy about the fact that a mistake had been made, I was willing to get over myself and change cabins.  But guess what, after they had made the mistake of allowing me to book a deluxe veranda cabin, which was actually an obstructed view mess, they were ONLY going to charge me a $100 fee PER PERSON to transfer our reservation to another cabin.  Oh and if the cabin was in a higher category, then I’d have to pay for the upgrade also.  I could live with that, but $100 per person for their mistake was just a little more than I was ready to fork over.

My Little Russian Powder Keg

If I was a little hysterical, then you might also say my friend Viktoriya was Mount Vesuvius.  She wanted heads to roll.  To be honest, I kind of wanted a few heads to roll also, but I didn’t want those heads to be on the shoulders of anyone at CTC Travel.  I told Viktoriya to dial it way back.  I also told her the first thing we should do was pray, especially before we started lopping off heads.

What I most felt like doing was going somewhere to mourn, but if I didn’t do something and quickly, things would get ugly.  While I’m certainly not a travel celebrity, I have been travel blogging for a decade now.  I have thousands of followers on social media and hundreds of thousands of people see my Travel Advisor reviews.  In fact, I’m one of the Top Twenty reviewers in Dallas.  While Bill has tried to get a few upgrades with that information over the years, I do my best to downplay it.  I don’t want to be feel beholden to anyone and feel like I have to say anything nice, especially if I don’t feel there was anything nice to say.  I also don’t want anyone to think I’m just saying something nice because I was compensated for it.

For once, I was changing my policy.  It’s one thing to tell some housewife in Heath that she’s looking at the Mediterranean through a big circle.  It’s another to know that hundreds of thousands of people will hear how you ripped off someone celebrating their 25th Wedding Anniversary on your cruise ship.  I can tell you one thing, those hundreds of thousands Travel Advisor people might not have cared and maybe even my 2,000 some odd Twitter followers might not have either, but let me tell you, my 500 plus Facebook friends would care and they were going to hear all about it.

I wrote a very apologetic email to Sandra, but I did give her all my social media stats (including a copy of one of the emails Travel Advisor sends me regularly about my status in the Top Twenty) so she’d have some ammunition to use with Celebrity.  I assured her I didn’t blame her, but that I expected a different cabin and I wasn’t going to be paying $100 per person for it.  In fact, I suggested an upgrade was probably in order.

I’ve already told you that Sandra saved the day, but come back next week and find out what she did for us.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Trying to Pretend We’re Having Fun

Celebrity Edge Brochure
My Cruise Planning Bible

TRAVEL THERE:  PRESSURE COOKER PLANNING

With 18 months to plan our Anniversary Cruise on Celebrity’s new Edge, it would seem that everything should have been smooth sailing, but as I shared last week, almost from the day we booked to the day we left, life was just one big crisis after another.  So, what cruise planning did I manage.  I’ll tell you.

Plodding Through the Planning

In late August, I decided I absolutely had to start thinking about the cruise.  Deb was in her new house and even though Bill was all tied up remodeling our rent house, surely we could start thinking about the cruise. I got on the Celebrity Cruise Line website and started studying everything they had there about our dining choices and the shore excursions.  Excitement abounded while I looked at all the options, but Bill wasn’t as thrilled about it when I tried to share the news.  I understood why, but it still made me sad.

The next time I got around to thinking about the cruise was late September and the first thing I discovered was that much of the research I had done in August was null and void, because all the pricing had changed.  I emailed my travel agent, Sandra Rubio of CTC Travel.  She was glad to hear from me, because since we’d booked the cruise I’d been fairly invisible, but come to find out, the shore excursion pricing I’d been looking at was based on a special they’d been running.  Not much she could do about that.  The special was over.

Because we knew the cruise was going to cost so much, we’d already decided to keep a low travel profile for the year, but as I began to actually plan the cruise, I knew this event was going to take up more than two years of travel budget – more like 3 to 5 years – and all the while, we’re bleeding money on the house we were trying to sell.  Still, I had to start making some decisions.  If we were going to have a vow renewal ceremony, Sandra encouraged me to go ahead and book it.  I got over that hump in October.

The next hurdle was considering pre and post trip excursions, so we’d know when to book the air.  I planned the trip 14 ways.  I priced it out with the Celebrity pre and post trip excursions.  I even had Sandra price out DIY pre and post shore excursions.  After all that research, we finally decided to just do the cruise and splurge on the best short excursions during the trip.  I was ready to book our airfare on January 7th, exactly the number of days ahead all the travel bloggers say you are supposed to book international air.

“Obstructed Views”

We got air hundreds of dollars less than the cruise company was offering it and I had just started to relax.  Things were shaping up for our trip in spite of what was happening with the stupid real estate problem.  And that’s when I got an email from my Sandra with the words “obstructed views” in it.  It’s a darn good thing we’d booked non-refundable air, because had we not done that, just days before, chances are we would have cancelled the cruise.  It was just too much.  There had been too many complications about the cruise and in our lives.  Obstructed balconies made me want to stay home.

So what did we do?  Come back next week and I’ll let you know.

 

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

A Year of Antiscipation

Cruise Buddies

TRAVEL THERE: I HAD MORE TO DO THAN WAIT

Excuse my sabbatical from blogging.  I came back from my cruise more than overwhelmed.  I came back, got to work and haven’t looked up since, until today.  Let the cruise blogging begin!

If you’re thinking of cruising, a shift has occurred in the last few years.  After of decades of saving the best deals for last, the cruise lines finally learned they’d been training their passengers to wait until the last minute to book their sailings.  So, a major shift has occurred.  The earlier you book, the better the deal – or at least that’s what they tell you.  Sure, there will always be last minute deals, but you might not like what you get.

I just checked.  To get a room in the same category I first booked, I wouldn’t save a penny if I’d waited until now.  The good news would be that I wouldn’t be spending anymore.  However, chances are, I wouldn’t have gotten the same room, but on a smaller cruise ship, there’s the chance I wouldn’t be going at all.  So what did I do with that 15 months I had before the cruise?  Well, I’ll share some it with you.

Come Cruise with Me

My first consideration in this had been to let our family members know what we were planning and invite them along.  I notified them months before we ever settled on a cruise line.  As we considered our options, we paid serious attention to which cruises would work best with the potentially interested family members.  All that was for naught.  In the end, not a single niece, nephew, sister or cousin joined us.  Once I knew which cruise we’d be on and that there’d be no group deal, I sent out an invitation to virtually ever one on our buddy list.  Several friends had talked a good game when the cruise was mere speculation, but when it came time to book a cabin, most wandered away, some without a word, some with ‘maybe later’ and a few with stated regrets.

In truth, I’d hoped for a heftier guest list.  This whole thing had come out of my desire to stand before our friends and family and renew our marriage vows.  Moving the ceremony from our backyard to the deck of a cruise ship had emptied the party chairs of all but the most faithful and oh, what faithful friends those were.  Let me introduce you to our crew.

The first to sign up, as I’ve already told you, were Jim and Melanie.  What delightful souls they are!  Had they not stepped up and bought their fare the moment we told them which ship, I might be telling you a different tale today.  I will be forever grateful for their encouragement that day.  As a Christian I’ve learned that God often speaks through circumstances.  The message that day was loud and clear.  Come on, book your cruise.  If Jim and Melanie are there, you don’t need anyone else.

But I knew there would be someone else coming along.  From the time I first mentioned the idea of a vow renewal, my bestie, Deb, had planned to be there – backyard, boat deck or the back of beyond.  Deb is always there for me.  When we announced our choice, she was in the middle of a huge life crisis, but life crisis be damned, Deb was going to be there.

And then there’s Viktoriya.  I’ve never had children of my own, but God has filled my life with wonderful people, who mean as much or more to me, as anyone who is actually a member of my family.  Viktoriya is one of those people.  She was literally a lost soul when we met in a class at UTD and I have observed her grow into an amazing woman.  She graciously gives me some credit for the journey she has made, but it has been God that made all the difference.

Then Life Happened 

When Bill first turned my attention away from a backyard ceremony to a cruise, I envisioned the fun we’d have, poring over the ship’s brochure, selecting our shore excursions and choosing our dining venues.  He’d even promised that would be part of the package if I’d do things his way.  Well then, life happened.  Come back next week and I will tell you about that.