Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

T-Minus 4 Days

TRAVEL HERE: BAD NEWS BEFORE THE CRUISE

It was Thursday.  Our boat would leave on Monday afternoon.  I had everything I would wear gathered into one section of the closet, ready to pack.  Bill would wait until the last minute, as always.  I was having lunch with my Bible study girls when I got a text from Bill.  One of his uncles had died.  This was sad news, but since they lived in Canada, no way we’d be attending the funeral.  When I got home and he was in a blue mood, I thought the death was the cause.  I didn’t know the sky was falling.

A Workplace Hiccup Shakes Up Our Cruise

It would take more than a blog post to explain what Bill does, but suffice it to say he’s in the market.  He trades using a series of programs he has developed.  His plan was to turn his programs over to his broker to make the trades while he was gone.  This was a humongous project.  There’s always a little housekeeping you need to do when you turn your work over to someone else and Bill had to put safeguards in place, so that his proprietary information would stay proprietary.  So, in the weeks before the cruise he logged a lot of hours in on his computer to get everything ready.  We were celebrating his birthday, after all.

Then it came time to shift his programs over to the broker and they ran into a glitch.  It would take another entire blog post to explain it, so just believe me – it wasn’t good.  They might have overcome the issue with more time to work on it, but there wasn’t any time.  Like most glitches, there had been no way to anticipate it, so Bill was just stuck with having to monitor his systems himself during the cruise.  He wouldn’t be involved in all the research and coding that goes into a normal day of work, but he wouldn’t be free of it either.

Bill spends his day with an array of pc’s and extra large monitors to do what he needs to do.  He’d spent a couple of weeks getting some of it ready to turn over to his broker, who had his own set of pc’s and extra large monitors.  Since that wasn’t going to happen, Bill now had to figure out how to get all that computer power into his laptop.  The balance of time before the cruise was barely enough time to accomplish this.

Then the Market Blew Up

Friday morning the market blew up, as in fell apart and started dropping like a brick.  Since the first of the year we’d been doing pretty well and that was why Bill had been ready to turn everything over to someone else and really enjoy the cruise.  Now all of his plans were going to hell in a hand basket.  We weren’t going to have to sell the house or anything, but it really wasn’t the kind of thing a trader wants to have happen before they leave town.

Even when it’s being good to  you, the market is stressful.  Trying to keep up with it on vacation with the market going down and no bottom in sight is bad enough.  Throw his technical challenges into the mix and we couldn’t have picked a worse time to go if we’d tried.  We had a standing joke that every time we try to leave it’s the worst time we could do, but he didn’t find it funny when I brought it up.

He kept all of this to himself until some time on Saturday.  I just thought he was reeling from the market dive and his uncle’s death.  When I knew enough to really appreciate what he was going through, I was surprised he didn’t just call off the cruise – but we hadn’t gotten travel insurance and I don’t know if our issues would have qualified for a refund, even if we had gotten the insurance.

So come back next Monday and we’ll head to Galveston and try to have some fun.

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

What Else to Order Before You Board a Cruise

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
Cruise Compass kept us up to date with what was happening on the boat

TRAVEL HERE: WI-FI, SHOWS AND MORE

We’ve looked at shore excursions, specialty dining and beverage plans.  If you’ve never cruised before you are already worn out.  If you are a cruiser, then you know this is just par for the course.  It takes a little time before you go, but it makes things much more seamless when you are on board – and I promise it’s easier to do the ordering than it is to explain the complexities of it.  So if you were about to give up on the idea of cruising, hang on, we’re almost through with the whole pre-boarding thing.

Different Things to Order on Different Boats

Except for the headaches associated with having to make the food and beverage decisions, this Royal Caribbean Cruise was pretty easy.  Before our Norwegian Cruise we had to schedule all the specialty dining and book times for the on board entertainment.  We also took advantage of their wine program, where you pre-selected and paid for your bottles of wine ahead of time.  On different ships you will have different opportunities.  This might be one of the reasons some people like to keep cruising on the same line.  Once they figure it all out, they don’t want to have to learn a new system.

One of the things I had a hard time figuring out was what shows would be available on this cruise.  I’m a lot happier when I have an idea of what to expect, but it was pretty much a blank page.  Had I actually known what they would be delivering, I might have jumped ship before I got there, but that’s for later.  For now I just encourage you to be thorough and read through all the material they send you.  It might look like fine print, but later you will be glad you did.

WI-FI

There are so many ways to deliver wi-fi that I couldn’t begin to do them justice.  On Viking wi-fi was included.  On Norweigan, the public areas had wi-fi.  When we sailed with Carnival I still had a flip phone, so I didn’t care.  On Royal Caribbean they have what they call VOOM and you pay for it.  They also say in some of their materials they have free wi-fi in designated areas on board and they might on some ships, but not Vision of the Seas.

VOOM comes in two flavors, wi-fi alone and with streaming.  You can also buy it in a combo package with your soda or beverage packages to get a few dollars of discount.  Bill and I discussed it thoroughly a week or so before the cruise and since he thought he had a plan for off-loading his work for a few days and I thought they’d have an internet cafe with free wi-fi we decided to forgo any wi-fi.  What could we miss in four days, right?

Well, we both figured wrong, so keep coming back, because eventually I’ll tell you the sad saga of VOOM, but next week we’ll head to Galveston.

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

Adult Beverage Packages

TRAVEL HERE: STEPPING UP FROM SODAS

Some people think everybody on a cruise is looking for a multi-day drinking binge.  To a certain extent, they have a point.  There are a whole lot of people drinking a whole lot of adult beverages on most cruises – and I think I know why.

Pay As You Go VS Drink Packages

I’m a wine with dinner person, but big ship cruising isn’t geared for that.  Glasses of wine hover at $10-12 – and who can drink just one?  The bottled wine choices are limited and while I can understand why, they certainly charge through the roof for what they have.  To make that even more challenging, I drink white and Bill drinks red.  He’s fine with a beer, but they’re around $8 and his favorite, Bud Light costs more, because for some reason all American beers cost more.  I consider beer to be wasted calories.  We have a bit of dilemma in this department.

On Norwegian they did have a wine program and I embraced it the same way I have the soda programs, but apparently the Royal Caribbean cruises target those people who want to drink mixed drinks – and a lot of them.  Margaritas, Mojitos, Pina Coladas and all their sisters and brothers are the beverages featured in the Adult Beverage Packages.  In fact wine drinkers can’t even get bottles of wine through the programs, they only get discounts.  So it’s not just my imagination that they discriminate against wine.

If you pay as you go on a cruise and you prefer beverages that aren’t on the free list, you can rack up a pretty penny pretty quickly

  • A a bottle of water while you work out
  • Breakfast with coffee and juices
  •  Mid-morning soda
  • A beer with your hamburger for lunch
  • Sitting at the pool in the afternoon a margarita or two & probably a bottle of water or two
  • Dinner a couple of glasses of wine
  • A Cocktail at the show.

Now, this would be a lot of drinking on a regular day, but you’re on a cruise, so you indulge yourself.  Do you have any idea what you have just spent?  The coffee and juices were free, but you have spent $4-12 on every other item.  You just spent $64 dollars and to add injury to insult they will add a 18% tip to your bill for each drink.  Your bill just went up to $75.52.

So, then you think you’ll look over the free beverages again, but remember you’re on a cruise.  You wish you could splurge a little,  so you  go back over the beverage wish list, wondering how much of it you would actually drink.  Somewhere along the way you must decide what works best for you.  The all-you-can drink beverage package is about $65 a day.  It includes mixed drinks, beers, wine by the glass and sodas.  You also get a hefty discount on bottles of wine.  I wouldn’t blame anyone for getting the package, so they can just order what they want when they want it without worrying about it.

But be careful, they still add something for tips.  They also only cover beverages up to a certain price point – twelve dollars on my latest cruise.  So if the drink of the day is $14 (and I saw some that were) you just got charged! A friend of mine said she and her husband used to get one adult beverage package and would just avoid ordering two drinks at once, but the cruise lines figured that trick out.  If one person in the cabin gets an adult beverage program, any other adults in the room are also charged for one.  They get you coming and going.

We decided to pay as we went.  The cruise line allowed us to bring two bottles of wine on board and there was no corkage fee.  For a four day cruise that was really all we needed, but guess who was drinking red wine.  Besides, I knew they would be serving free champagne at some of the events and I had the soda program to fill in.

We were fine, but I can imagine that if you splurge for the adult beverage package, then you want to be very sure that you take advantage of it.  Hence the boat sometimes feels like it is full of drunk people.

The big pool was the scene of several bacchanals.  We didn’t spend much time there, but a few times when we passed by, there were very drunk ladies parading around the dance floor, showing us more of themselves than we really wanted to see. Not sure why there’s never a stunning looker among the drunks, but we’ve found that to be true on virtually every cruise.  We also wandered into a bar late one evening to see an event that promised to be humorous, but the karaoke wasn’t quite over when we got there.  Talk about drunk people!

So that’s the skinny on beverages.  I’ll cover a few more pre-cruise choices you can make next week.

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

Beverage Packages on Cruises

TRAVEL HERE: WETTING YOUR WHISTLE

Beverages on a cruise can be a challenge if you have a specific taste you crave.  However, there are plenty of free and inexpensive solutions, too.

Let’s Start with What’s Free

If you don’t drink alcohol and you’re not addicted to sodas ( like someone who will remain unnamed, but does write for this blog) then you need not read any further.  You can get all the tea, coffee, juice, lemonade, milk etc. etc. etc. that you want on a boat.  You’ll have to drink tap water, because bottled water comes at $4 each, but otherwise you’re golden.

With a little craftiness you can manage to get a few glasses of complimentary champagne or a free sample of rum.  You might even score a bottle of water or two on a shore excursions.  You just have to watch the daily schedule and go where the treats are – but you will never ever for any reason get a free soda.

Back in my early cruising, wine with dinner was included and sodas were free.  Obviously, that was a long time ago.  The wine at dinner wasn’t the greatest wine in the world, but I’m no connoisseurI can talk wine all day long and love to attend tastings, but in reality I’m quite happy with a glass of pinot grigio from a box.  Wine with dinner is part of the reason we like all-inclusive cruise lines like Viking, but outside of that, wine with dinner is not included and neither are sodas.  Most cruise lines will allow you to bring a couple of bottles of wine on board, but be careful, some still charge a corkage fee.

Getting My Soda Fix

I’m not really addicted to soda.  When I need to lose weight I restrict myself from having it, as a sort of carrot.  “When you get down to your goal you can have a Diet Dr Pepper,” I tell myself, but while I’m not drinking it, I’m not really suffering.  No headaches.  No cravings.  I just happen to like Diet Dr Pepper – several a day as a matter of fact.

However, cruising is supposed to be about having fun and indulging yourself a little bit.  Being restricted from sodas detracts from the pleasure for me.  The kicker is that a soda is $4.  FOUR DOLLARS. Actually $4 plus 18% for tips.  Were I to get charged almost $5 every time I had a soda, my husband would not be happy with me.

Enter the soda package.  For $8 a day you can have all the soda you want and at that price someone else in this household can get a sip from time to time.  You also get a nice thermal cup to carry around all over the place.  And here’s a bonus for Mr. Bill.  While I love wine, margaritas and rum drinks with little umbrellas in them, if I have a soda package I’m perfectly happy to have another cup of caffeine.  So that $8 goes a long way.

Now if you’d like a glass of wine with dinner, a margarita by the pool or a cold one as you enjoy your day in the sun, beware!  We’ll talk about that next week!

 

Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Your Personal Travel Advisor

TRAVEL TALK: I’VE GIVEN MYSELF A PROMOTION

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday and I don’t usually post on Tuesdays, but Monday is devoted to a recent cruise, on Wednesdays I’m still covering Egypt and on Friday’s I share my Spot On Images post.  So what’s a girl who just attended a travel show supposed to do?  I decided if I squeaked this in here you wouldn’t mind too much.  Anyway, I’ve promoted myself from Random Travel Blogger to Personal Travel Adviser and I thought I’d tell you why.

The Travel Pros

I have a lot of respect for pros in the travel industry, but at a recent Travel & Adventure Show in Dallas, I learned I didn’t have quite enough respect for myself.  I’m not Samantha Brown.  I’m not even Josh Garcia. However, I might be more valuable to you than both of those travel pros.  While travel pros can give you some great information, they do not necessarily give you the best advice.  Let me give you an example.

Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor

“Call the hotel directly and ask to speak to the MOD.” (That’s Manager On Duty for the rest of us.)  This is the advice Peter Greenberg gave to us.  He assured us this was the best way to score cheap hotel rates.

During the Q&A, the first guy to the mic challenged this advice.  He told of a call he’d made to a Las Vegas resort and the result had been just short of being laughed off the phone.  The MOD wasn’t going to be rude to a potential guest, but he wasn’t going to upgrade him to the presidential suite or comp a couple of days either.  Peter Greenberg, Emmy Award-Winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor has reason to expect that sort of treatment, but you and me and the guy at the mic?  Not so much.  Mr. Greenbers response?  Mumbling into the microphone about starting a conversation and moving to the next question.

Can a call to the MOD make a difference?  Absolutely.  Bill called the MOD at Egypt’s Mena House and negotiated an outstanding rate, but he had a reason to call.  Since he had an expired Egyptian passport, there was a chance he’d qualify for the resident rate.  Some hotels will, some won’t.  My charming husband called up and pumped the guy for information about the hotel, things he genuinely wanted to know, but he didn’t start with ‘give me a discount’.  Along the way he explained how much his travel-blogging wife wanted to stay there and lamented the good old days when his expired passport used to get him a reduced rate.  Before the call had ended, Bill had booked two nights at $75 a night.

So Mr. Greenberg was right about the advice, but he’d failed to share the conversation part and that had caused the guy at the mic to endure some unnecessary embarrassment.  I’ll give Mr. Greenberg a break.  He only has so much time to share his information and convince you to become a fan. I don’t have to squeeze everything I have to tell you into 30-45 minutes.  I dribble it out in 750-1000 word bites, but I’ve got nothing but time, so I can thoroughly explain exactly what I mean when I give you my opinion.

Back to the MOD thing – there could be any number of reasons to give him/her a call and see what happens.  If you’re a really patient person with a lot of time on your hands, then I recommend it heartily, but most of us just don’t have the time, the patience or the personality to charm the MOD.  I’ve tried it a couple of times and discovered the rate they offered didn’t even beat Expedia.  And that’s why I can give you better travel advice than the guy at the travel show.  I still face all the same challenges you do.

I’m More Like You Than I Am Them

One of the reasons you need to be a little suspect of travel pros is that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a tourist.  They had to give up being a tourist to become a pro, but sometimes when they are giving advice to tourists, they forget about the pure joy of travel.  They behave as if you get points for avoiding an expense.  Unnecessary expenses, sure, like taking a cab for a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport, instead of paying $79 to the resort for shared transfers.  You bet I’m taking the cab, but what’s their beef with balconies?

The new trend among travel pros is balcony bashing.  They whisper about interior cabins as if it wasn’t clear to anyone, even novices, that inside cabins are less expensive.  That’s not exactly a travel secret.  Can’t afford a balcony?  OK, but don’t let that keep you home.  By the same token, if a balcony sounds good and you can afford it, get it. Travel is not some kind of financial acuity exam.  In fact, the easiest way to ruin a vacation is to grieve over every penny you spend.  Have a budget, stay in it and then enjoy the heck out of yourself.

So, here I am, your personal travel adviser.  You either know me personally or you’ve come to trust what I say because you’ve been reading my blog for awhile.  You should at least know you can trust me more than an anonymous review on a travel site and since this latest travel show I attended, I know you can trust me more than the pros.

I plan to take my new position very seriously, so let me know how I can help you with your travel quandaries.

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

Personalizing Your Cruise’s Foodie Experience

Just one of many desserts

TRAVEL HERE: MORE OPTIONS THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT

Last week I shared what we chose to add on to our cheapie cruise, which in the end almost doubled the cheap price that had convinced us to book the cruise, but even at twice the price, cruising is a travel bargain.  We only booked the bare minimum.  Here’s a sampling of what you can get.

Dining Aboard a Cruise Ship

Food is one of the big components of a cruise.  All cruises have three meals a day and all the grazing you can stand available in some format.  The bigger the ship, the more choices you will have.

Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas has the Windjammer Buffet available at most hours.  If you wanted to, you could spend your days in there, eat as much as you wanted.  The Aquarius Dining Room has formal seating and you order from a menu.  It’s not open for as many hours as the buffet, but you can get three meals a day there.  There was also a small short order cafe open pretty much all the time, called the Park Cafe off the Solarium.  Eating at these venues will not cost you a dime.  You can order whatever you want (Well, almost whatever you want.  We’ll cover this later!) and as much of it as you want, without engaging your pocketbook.

Quite frankly, the formal dining room experience is one of my favorite parts of any cruise.  I’m just not a buffet girl.  I like to be waited on and I like my food best when it is served in fine china on linen table cloths.  In addition, the dining room is where you make your cruise buddies on most ships.  You come in from a busy day and share experiences with a group of people you may never see again in your life, but for a week they are the best friends you’ve got.  So far, we’ve always been lucky in our table mates.

Specialty Dining

Early in my cruising career, the choices listed above were all the choices you had on board.  It was just the way it was. Then cruise lines discovered the formal dining room was the very thing which kept some people off a cruise ship.  These potential passengers didn’t want to be forced to make a choice between a casual buffet and dressing for dinner.  They wanted other options.  The cruise lines also found out these potential passengers would be willing to pay extra for said options.  Specialty dining was born.

We did not opt for specialty dining on this cruise.  We had an eye on the budget and the cruise was only four nights.  When a cruise is longer, having some variety in your evenings is a plus.  Besides the specialty dining was a sushi place, a steakhouse and an Italian restaurant – nothing very exciting.  On Norwegian there had been a charcuterie, French food and a restaurant with a Cirque de Soleil type show.  It made sense to do some exploring and we were traveling with our own cruise buddies.

At first, Bill thought he wanted specialty dining on this cruise, but like me, he wasn’t thrilled by any of the options.  We figured steak and some sort of pasta would be on the menu every night in the formal dining room and while we eat sushi from time to time, it’s not one of our favorites.  Besides, this was supposed to be a cheapie cruise.  Why pay for something that is adequately provided for free?

I did do a thorough evaluation of the offerings and the pricing was interesting.  You could enjoy one of the specialty restaurants on one evening for $35-$45 per person.  The more specialty dining you did, the more the price went down per meal, but of course, the total price tag went up.  If you got the premiere specialty dining package you could go to the specialty restaurants for lunch and dinner everyday and the meals came out to almost nothing.  The price included deluxe beverage packages with all the soda and alcoholic beverages you wanted, as well as discounted bottles of wine.  I was very tempted to push for that package, but then I realized I’d be adding hundreds of dollars to our costs for something that was provided free in the dining room.

The whole issue of beverages took the decision making to a whole new level.  Let’s talk about that next week.

Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

The Not So Cheap Cheapie Cruise

A Chilly Sail Away

TRAVEL HERE: EXTERIOR CABINS FROM $259

So Bill’s birthday was on the horizon and it was a significant number.  At dinner on a Sunday evening we discussed what to do about it and a short cheapie cruise out of Galveston seemed like just the thing.  We’d taken a Carnival Cruise out of Galveston a few years ago and had a great time.  We expected a repeat performance, with upgrades, but that’s not how it turned out.

A Quick Google

With very little ado I found a four day cruise on Royal Caribbean.  An exterior cabin was supposed to be $259.  That sounded good to Bill.  I’d warned him that Royal Caribbean had a la carte pricing and $259 was the starting point, not the final total.  He wanted a little time to think about it.  A little time turned into a day and Tuesday morning I contacted my travel agent, Sandra Rubio of CTC,Inc.

We had a little back and forth, because initially she couldn’t find the deal.  Part of the problem was that we’d waited a couple of days.  The golden rule of travel bargains is grab it as soon as you find it, but Mr. Bill isn’t made that way.  He always sleeps on decisions.  In most cases that’s a good thing and it has saved our gravy more times than I can count, but it did put a dent in our $259 (per person based on double occupancy) exterior cabin.

By Tuesday, interior cabins began at $280 and it was only $67 more for one with an ocean view, so we made the leap for an exterior cabin.  We got it for $313 each, plus taxes ($123.62).  So far so good.  We were under $750 and we were on Royal Caribbean, a line we’d sailed before and loved.

Let the Nickel and Diming Begin!

Something all cruise lines do these days is offer online sites for personal cruise planning.  Once you’ve booked they will send you a link and you can start personalizing your cruise.  Everything from bed arrangements to special events can be arranged through your portal.  It’s great for booking shore excursions, specialty dining, beverage packages and entertainment.  You can also begin to understand what you can expect once you are on board.

Not everything on the portal will cost money, but a lot of it does.  My first concern is always shore excursions.  I compare what the independent shore excursion companies offer compared to what the boat offers.  If you book independently, be sure you are using a legitimate shore excursion company that guarantees you will be back on board in time for your cruise.  Read the fine print and check out comments.

According to what you are looking for you don’t even have to book a shore excursion.  The spa and other services on board are usually heavily discounted when the boat is in harbor.  Sometimes everything you want is within walking distance of the boat.  Shop around and do your research.

What I Did

I was dying to go to Chichen Itza, one of the top archaeological sites in the world, but this wasn’t my cruise.  Bill opted for Discover the Yucatan and Mayan Culture, which was offered by Royal Caribbean.   Our only port of call was Progresso, which is a bit of a backwater in the cruising industry, so independent providers didn’t really offer much.  With a 30% discount for booking before we boarded, the shore excursions were $63 a piece.  I also purchased a beverage plan, because I can’t live without caffeine and I don’t drink coffee.  Again the pre-boarding booking saved me 30% and I had a $25 on board credit from my travel agent (see why you use a travel agent) I got a $40 package for $15.  That brought our total up to $990.74 which is almost twice the advertised $259 person price would be.   

What a bargain cruising can actually be.  If you consider transportation, food, accommodations and entertainment, you can barely stay home for $123.75 per person per day – much less travel.  So we may whine about the price a little bit, but cruising really is a big bang for your traveling buck.   

So far so good.  How did this trip almost turn into a traveling disaster?  Come back next week and we’ll talk about it.

 

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Google, Book & Enjoy – or Not

Lifeboat Drill, Royal Caribbean

TRAVEL HERE: NO GUARANTEES

So I’ve given you my secrets to finding a great cruise:

Now for some real life application!

Hit or Miss!

Do you have a friend who finds amazing bargains at a particular store?  Have you ever walked into that store and not found a darned thing?  Was that the last time your visited?  Well, travel planning is a little bit like shopping in that way.

If you are a savvy shopper then you know where to go to find the best stuff at the best price, but you also know that you won’t find what you want every time you walk in.  Sometimes you will find so much great stuff and it will be so cheap, you’ll feel like you’re cheating someone.  The next time you go – nada.  Then maybe the next time you pick up an item or two, but it’s nothing to write home about.  Eventually you look in your closet and it seems like all the good stuff came from that place and no one would believe you if you told them how little you paid for it all.

If you rarely travel, then you are more likely to hate traveling.  When you think about traveling, you dread it because everything about it is a hassle and more often than not, it’s not worth the effort.  However, the more you travel, the more you figure out about it and the better you are at it.  Your wins outweigh your losses and even when things don’t exactly go right, you learn how to grab victory out of the jaws of defeat.

No Guarantees!

The truth of the matter is that you can do everything right and bomb out completely, but isn’t that true of everything in life?  The great thing is you can also decide on Thursday evening to take a long weekend at a nearby B&B and have the time of your life.  I’ve never been fond of gambling, but I love taking at chance that I am going to have a great time when I travel.

I’m lucky.  My mom loved traveling and I started learning travel secrets from her when I didn’t even realize that was what was going on.  I watched her plan huge road trips from scratch when there was no internet and long distance phone calls were too expensive for her to make on a regular basis.  Those were the good old days, but do I ever have some great stories to tell.

The main thing I learned from her was that you can’t get it right every time and even when everything goes wrong you can still have a good time – or you can be miserable.  It’s a conscious choice.

And that leads me right into our latest cruise – number 7 for us, but it wasn’t our lucky cruise. It started one Sunday evening as a kind of lark and turned into a trial by cruise boat.  Oh, none of those disasters where everybody is sick or stranded.  There was no man overboard or running aground.  It was just a miserable time or it could have been.  Instead we pulled a pretty nice escape out of what could have been a travel horror story.

Since we’re still enjoying Egypt on Wednesdays, we’ll call this a Travel Here series, because it all started in Galveston in our home state.  Come back next week and I’ll share our story.  Maybe you’ll learn some tips on how to turn travel traumas into great vacations.

 

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Off to Dahab

TRAVEL THERE: A RELUCTANT TRAVELER

One day as we were planning the trip to Egypt, Bill tried to sell me on Dahab.  There’s a certain tone Bill gets when he’s trying to convince me of something he knows I won’t like.  That’s the tone he used when he showed me gorgeous pictures of a resort in the town of Dahab.  I could tell right away that something was fishy.

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  There was a time when Dahab would have been a mystery.  The proffered photo of an elegant resort would have been all I had to go on, but now we have the internet.  I could find the same lovely picture of the Dahab Paradise Resort as Bill was showing me, but I could also find a map, which proved that Dahab was way out in the desert.  The only thing Dahab was famous for was a Bedouin Festival that died after two years of trying.  There was nothing else to recommend going there.

To make matters worse, the US State Department was aggressive in their insistence that Americans had no business whatsoever in Egypt, especially in a beach resort like Sharm el Sheihk and most especially anywhere in the desert beyond Sharm.  Fly to and from Sharm and do not go into the desert, their website warned in several different ways.  In other words, Dahab was not some place they would recommend for my touring pleasure.

From the get-go, I suggested that if everyone else wanted to go to Dahab, then they certainly should, but I could stay safely tucked away in the Sharm Marriott, with or without Bill.  That just wasn’t going to fly.  Even though I kept singing the same song up until the very moment we turned in the key to our room in Sharm, Bill wasn’t budging. By then, the awful Good Friday bombing had happened and the US State department was even more serious about their warnings, but my pleas were falling on deaf ears.

Climb Aboard & Leave the Driving to Us

Things didn’t get better.  I was told to ride in the last few seats of the bus, just in case we were stopped.  Not only was the US State Department worried about my well-being, so was Egypt.  If Americans were headed into the desert, a police presence was required, but it had been decided, that since everyone else was an Egyptian, either past or present, (or in the case of my grand niece and nephew looked like they were Egyptian), we could get by without the escort.  So I sat in the back of the bus and was told to keep my hat and my shades on.  I complied, but I was furious with Bill.

The hour long trip into the desert was without incident, but as we pulled into town I felt like I was in a movie.  You know the kind I mean.  Someone has disappeared and some idiot goes to the last place they were seen, a godforsaken wide place in the road that you shouldn’t approach without a full squadron of Navy Seals.  No one can be seen anywhere in the streets, but you know your hero or heroine is about three frames from a gun fight or a kidnapping.  Yep, that’s Dahab.

Thankfully we rolled through the center of town without stopping, passed through a residential area and finally arrived at the resort.  For the most part, the pictures on the website had been very accurate.  It seemed like a really nice spot – it just wasn’t a spot I wanted to be anywhere near.

Things didn’t magically get better.  For the next hour or so I was beyond miserable.  I couldn’t even put a finger on all the reasons I was unhappy, but I was most definitely not thrilled to be there.  Come back next week and I will make a full confession.

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

The Suite Life at Sea

TRAVEL THERE: STEPPING UP TO SUITES & STATEROOMS

The ultimate experience at sea is supposed to be a suite.  I have one friend who won’t cruise without a suite and another who enjoyed Celebrity’s Aqua Class, but would cruise tomorrow with or without it.  I have to base my comments on their experiences, because I’ve never enjoyed the suite life.

Over the Fence

While I am sure every ship I’ve ever been on had suites, it wasn’t until I cruised with Norwegian that I realized I was missing something.  As we roamed the decks during the Sail Away Party, we ran into a high barrier.  I got out my map and realized we’d come to the section reserved for the suite clientele.

Sometimes suites are virtually unrecognizable as a suite from the outside.  They have a door on a hall, just like everyone else.  Only once you get inside do you start getting the royal treatment.  Nowadays many ships not only have suites, they also have whole sections of the ship that peons like Bill and I never get to see.  That was the case on Norwegian.  They call it The Haven.  Havenites have their own pool, their own restaurant and their own decks.  No need to mingle with the unwashed.

This new suite arrangement is kind of like First Class on airplanes.  You know how you walk down the aisle and stare at all the people in those great big leather seats, fully aware that you are about to subject yourself to several hours of space deprivation.  Well, when you’re strolling along a deck and suddenly come up against the barricade hiding the suite section, you know you’re missing something.  Did Bill figure out a way to look over the top?  I’ll never tell, but it did make us wonder what we were missing.

Vicarious Suiteship

So my bestie took a cruise and tried out Aqua Class – that’s your usual stateroom with suite amenities.  Your room will be a little larger than the guys who merely opted for a balcony, but you’ll also get more.  You’ll have special access to the spa, your own specialty restaurant and special amenities – those lovely terry robes and swanky toiletries you find in upscale hotels.  Did she love the extras?  You bet!  Did they ruin her for suite-less cruising?  Not at all.  It was sort of like me and balconies.

Why Suites?

Suites on cruise ships work for the same reasons hotels have suites.  In some situations one room just doesn’t cut it.  Many cruise lines have family suites designed to make traveling with kids a little easier, without putting you in the Ritz. However, most of the reasons people move up to the suite life have to do with luxury.  They just want more – more room, more service, more opulence.

Are you a suite cruiser?  First, look at your budget.  You’re going to pay for the extras and only you know whether the extras are worth it to you.  However, be careful.  What’s the suite life on one ship does not necessarily translate to the next ship.  Know what you expect and what they are offering.

It’s not just about a little extra space, though.  You get preferred boarding and disembarkation.  You often get a butler or concierge.  Special events like dinner with the captain often come with a suite.  Some of the things other people pay for on board, like shore excursions, wi-fi or certain spa privileges are included.  You get specialized treatment in various restaurants, special tables in the casino and often you even have an exclusive restaurant.  The Suite Life is the Sweet Life.