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.

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

If This is Wednesday, We’re in Monte Carlo

Celebrity's Newest Ship - The EdgeTRAVEL THERE: GOING TO THE EDGE WITH CELEBRITY

To say Bill’s choice won would not be exactly correct.  We talked though all the options and in the end, it made the most sense.  It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but looking at the ship and the itinerary, I certainly didn’t lose.  And there had been no arguments.  Not even differences of opinion, just a realization that given our options, Celebrity’s Edge was the choice for us.

Horses Before Carts

When we decided to cruise on The Edge, the ship didn’t even exist.  Oh, they were in the process of building it, but we were taking a leap of faith.  On Saturday, March 24, 2018 I sent an email to my travel agent, Sandra Rubio of CTC travel that we’d chosen The Edge’s June 15, 2019 cruise, out of Rome.  The ship would have her maiden voyage in December 2018.  I thought the next step would be the red tape involved with setting up an official “group” with Celebrity.  That meant a selection of rooms would be set aside for us and I’d have some time to recruit people to fill up the rooms.  It might even mean that we’d get a free room ourselves, but even if we didn’t there were a lot of other perks with being a group.

Only that’s not what happened.  Someone at Celebrity made an executive decision.  There would be no “groups” on The Edge – at least not during our cruise.  So, no free room for us or room discounts for our fellow travelers or any of the other perks that come with having a group would ever be ours.  It was just a case of, “We’re going, do you want to join us.”  I wasn’t surprised.  I wouldn’t know what to do if things ever just went my way.

Then I got an email from Jim Bagley.  Jim is the husband of my friend Melanie.  She was my roommate at SFA and we’ve stayed close friends all these years.  Oh, we’re not the talk-to-you-every-day type of close friends.  I don’t have any of those, because I’m not that sort of person.  Even my bestie and I go days without so much as a text.  With Melanie, there have been years where our only correspondence has been Christmas cards.  However, get us together and you’d think we’d been connected at the hip since birth.  Jim and Melanie had booked their cabin.

I have to admit.  Bill and I were still wringing our hands over the loss of our group.  Was Celebrity still the best choice?  Would the Viking cruise be a better deal for us?  Jim’s email defined our dilemma and tightened our focus.  Were we going on The Edge or not?  We took another look at The Edge brochure and called Sandra to book our own cabin. We were going on a cruise for our 25th wedding anniversary.

That Was Then, This Is Now

I promise to share every single detail along the way with you.  If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know I won’t be able to resist it.  However, today I’m in Monte Carlo.  Yesterday, was our Vow Renewal Ceremony.  This morning we’ll be able to take it slow.  It’s a long day at this port of call, but we plan to sleep late and enjoy a sit-down breakfast.  Perhaps we’ll lounge by the pool or stroll around onshore.  At 4 PM we’re joining the CEO of Celebrity Cruises for a Wine Tasting at the Monte Carlo Yacht Club.  (Yeah, I know.  I’m still pinching myself.)  Then we’ll take a special after-hours tour of the Prince’s Palace.  After the tour, some brave souls will be dining with her up on the Magic Carpet, but alas, I can’t imagine enjoying an open air dinner up in the air.  I can’t even endure a wimpy zipline at a Texas roadside attraction.

Next week, I’ll be back home. I’ll pick up this tale up with the giddy moment we got our cabin confirmation and share a few of the disasters we’ve suffered on our way to The Anniversary Cruise.  Please join me.  We’re gonna have fun!

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

The Twenty-Fifth

The Trip of a Lifetime?

TRAVEL THERE: PLANNING A VACATION TO REMEMBER

I have a very pleasant difficulty.  I’ve had so many wonderful vacations that “the trip of a lifetime” barely has any meaning for me.  Each has been a “trip of a lifetime” in one way or another.  It began with my mom.  That lady knew how to plan a vacation.  I will never forget the American Heritage tour we took that included Washington D.C., Monticello, Mount Vernon, Williamsburg and Lincoln landmarks.  Before I met Bill I had a remarkable trip to England, a visit to Paris and a wonderful tour of Bavaria.  Since Bill came along we have had one memorable trip after another, both in the United States and abroad. Hawaii? Yes!  Caribbean? Yes!  Europe? Yes!  I never thought I’d see the Pyramids and now I have been twice.  So what were we supposed to do to mark a special milestone?

An Anniversary Cruise?

Letting go of the backyard vow renewal ceremony, surrounded by friends and family and solemnized by my pastor, was tough, but it wasn’t just my anniversary, it was Bill’s too.  So I started recreating my vision.  Exchanging the Phoenician for a Back East ramble and my two decade diamond for a pond-side home had both been good decisions.  Third time is the charm, right?

Bill and I daydreamed about the possibilities on our patio as summer became fall.  We’d always wanted to cruise the Mediterranean, but the cost had always scared us away.  We began to understand this splurge was the perfect choice for our Anniversary Cruise, but the Mediterranean is a big place.  What ports of call, what cruise line and which ship would we chose.  We had time, but it was a big decision.

As the year rolled to an end, I realized my favorite travel agency would be having their annual travel show in January.  Since one of the important things about this cruise would be the people who went with us, I spent several days sending out emails to all my friends and family explaining what we were planning, hoping they’d join us on the adventure.  Unfortunately, we were in no position to treat our friends and family to this cruise, so not only would they have to find the time to join us, they’d also need to find the funds.  Our responses ranged from, “Gee, we appreciate you thinking of us, but no,” to “Try and stop me from coming.”  In the middle were a whole lot of maybes.  There were also many, many unanswered emails.  Welcome to the Third Millennial!

My very own travel library

Days of Discovery

On a bright January day, bestie, hubby and I took in CTC’s annual travel show.  I got several bags full of dreams, but my husband only saw one ship.  I did my due diligence, unaware that Bill had already decided what we were going to do.  At that point, he didn’t realize it either.

I was torn between two choices.  I’d always dreamed of enjoying the luxury of an all suite ship, but since our Danube Waltz adventure on the Viking Tor, I’d been craving one of their ocean cruises.  Bill suggested I take a look at the new ship Celebrity was building, the Edge, and he was also interested in a Sailing Yacht Cruise.  I spent a long afternoon in Sandra Rubio’s office as she explored the various choices we were considering.  Then I spent days comparing the prices of the various cruises with the experiences we’d enjoy.

A few things were clear.  Te price of the all-suite luxury cruises would prohibit most of the other people from joining us.  The Sailing Yachts would offer us an amazing ceremony, but the ship we were most interested in would be getting an overhaul in 2019.  Taking the Viking cruise would mean no possibility of my grandnieces and nephews joining us.  The Edge was interesting and would accommodate the kids, but it was at the bottom of my list.

I’ve already let the cat out of the bag, Bill’s choice won the day – but did he choose the Yacht experience or the Edge?  Come back next week!  I’ll spill the beans!

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

The Next Adventure

TRAVEL THERE: BIG PLANS FOR A BIG DAY

A few years back a friend of mine was getting married and finding a venue stumped her.  I suggested she use my backyard.  She never really took my suggestion seriously, but I began to see how my favorite view would be the perfect spot for a celebration.  Her wedding came and went, but I was never able to eradicate the idea of a celebration in my backyard.  I began to float an idea with my husband – what if we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a vow renewal ceremony by our pond?

Anniversaries We Have and Yet, Have Not, Celebrated

Our wedding anniversary is a special day to us.  Bill doesn’t get very excited about Christmas, birthdays or Valentines, but our anniversary is something he likes to mark.  In our early years, we used to say we were going to spend our 10th wedding anniversary at the Phoenician in Arizona.  We’d visited the resort on some previous trips to the area and we loved fantasizing about splurging on a special celebration there, but it never happened.

When our 10th Anniversary rolled around, our nephew was graduating from Wharton (along with Ivanka Trump).  Bill’s brother had passed away not long before and we felt helping our nephew celebrate his important milestone took precedence over the Phoenician.  Believe me, it was no sacrifice.  We used Philadelphia as the starting point for an amazing tour.  I saw the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Mohonk Mountain House, Springwood, Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks, 1000 Islands and Niagara Falls.  The whole trip was filled with moments I will never forget.

For our 20th Anniversary I started making noise about replacing the diamond in my engagement ring.  Bill had surprised me with his proposal – like really surprised me.  He’d never so much as asked me my favorite shape of diamond!  At the time, he’d said the ring was just a placeholder and I could pick out what I wanted, but what I wanted was what he picked out for me.  After twenty years, though, I thought I might be due an upgrade – such as a carat for each decade.

To Bill’s credit, he took me shopping and he was willing to spend the obscene amount of money necessary to put a two carat rock into my wedding set.  Only my practical little soul could not countenance it.  I got my ring polished and we built our home on the pond instead.  Of course, the house cost a whole lot more than the new diamond would have, but look at what we got.  Our 20th wedding present was ourselves was the architectural plans for Falcons View Pass.  We moved in not long before our 21st.

Hofburg’s Silver Museum, from our Vienna visit on the Danube Waltz cruise

Looking to Twenty-Five

Though we always mark our anniversary in a special way, we don’t always do it on the special day.  Take the Danube Waltz in 2016.  It marked Anniversary 22, but it was about a month early.  Oregon marked number 18, but it several weeks later.  For number 23, we went to Egypt, but about a month before.  That’s when I started thinking about number 25.

Floating an idea with Bill is a bit of a challenge.  He’s always listens to me, but that doesn’t always mean he hears me.  I’d venture to say I’d been talking about a backyard vow renewal for six months before he figured out I was seriously considering it.  I had the whole thing sketched out in my mind.  When he finally asked me to explain it to him in full, I was on the edge of tears.  Only my vision didn’t resonate with him.

“How about a cruise,” he suggested.  Well, we love cruising and we’ve been on several, but the fact we’d already been on several was what caused my hesitation.  I wanted something very special to mark this milestone.  What’s more, I didn’t want to mark it alone.  Part of what had propelled my vision of the backyard ceremony had been the loss of so many of my loved ones.  So many of the important people who had celebrated our wedding were no longer here to testify to our commitment.  Some people who loomed large in the video of the day are either no longer a part of our lives at all or they have moved to the peripheral edges of our existence.  What’s more, there are those who are very, very special now, that I didn’t even know back then.

What did we decide to do?  Come back next week and find out.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Our Club Med Home Away From Home

La Nina

TRAVEL THERE: GENEROUS AND GRACIOUS SPACES

Since I’d won our trip to Club Med from CTC Travel, we had no idea what kind of accommodations to expect.  How bad could things be at a five star resort, right?  Still, I’ve usually pored over the available information and carefully selected our rooms to be as economical as possible, while providing what we need.  We made out just fine in what they provided – in fact, better than fine.

The Big Picture

Most of the entertainments and dining facilities are centrally located on the property.  If you go one way from there, you’ll reach the Zen side of the resort.  That’s the more exclusive, adults-only part.  If you go the other way, you’ll find building after building after building of more family-oriented hotel rooms.

Our Accommodations

I can’t speak for the rest of the rooms in any of the other buildings, but I can tell you 662 La Nina is a nice place to stay.  When you enter the door there is a hallway.  On the right is a room with a toilet and next to it is another room with the balance of the bathroom facilities, a huge walk-in shower and a large two-sink vanity.

The view from our front door

On the left side is a huge, and I do mean huge, closet.  Along with plenty of hanging space and hangers, there were two stacks of roomy shelving.  If I would have had my druthers, I would have preferred a dresser with drawers, but that’s just me.  The shelves worked fine.  There was also a shelf all around the top of the closet that was great for hats and such.  There was room for everything and to spare.

The room came with some equipment, a hairdryer, a frig, a coffee maker, an iron and an ironing board.  There’s also free wi-fi, not the fastest in the world, but more than adequate for the usual stuff. The Dominican Republic is on the same power grid as the US, so they had the same kinds of power and plugs as we do.

After you get past the bathroom facilities and closet, the room opened up.  To the right was a nice bed, queen-sized, I think.  It seemed a bit smaller than at home.  To the left was a secondary space with two sofas that could be made into beds.  We didn’t have to guess that this was great for families, a pungent smell told us someone had recently had an accident there.  As soon as we notified housekeeping they took care of it, but they had points taken away for it nonetheless.

The view from our balcony

There was also a nice balcony.  I wasn’t really roomy, but there were two chairs, a table and an ashtry, which we no longer see in America very often.  I spent some quality time out there, but had to be careful to wear socks, because if my ankles were bare, some invisible pest would begin to gnaw on me.

We were very comfortable there.  The rooms are not what I consider luxurious, but they weren’t spartan either.  Nicely, but not opulently furnished – it was a beach resort after all.  We especially appreciated the bonus room.  I’d retreat there in the mornings before Bill woke up and he liked to enjoy his online games there.  We slept well every night without any interruptions.

The Fitbit tells the story

We also walked a million miles or at least it seemed like it!  La Nina was sort of in the middle of the cluster of buildings with rooms.  I’m guessing there is a premium to pay for rooms which were closer to the entertainment section, but there were buildings which would have doubled our steps taken.  I hope they are a bargain.

At the reception area they tell you that you can call whenever you like and a cart will come and transport you back and forth.  On our first day we tested that theory and attempted to grab a ride to our room.  So, had everyone else on the property.  Well, not everyone else, but enough someone elses that we weren’t going to wait – especially when we watched an aggressive group jump on a cart and zoom away, rather than allowing the ladies who had been waiting ahead of us to take it.  In other words, we didn’t plan to fight that battle on a regular basis.  While I did see a lot of carts whipping around the property, it was rare for them to have guests as passengers.  Usually they were toting bags or equipment.

So that’s it for our accommodations.  Come back next week and we’ll go to breakfast.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Forty Pounds?

brown leather duffel bag
Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

TRAVEL THERE: A $120 LESSON FROM SPIRIT AIRLINES

So, on a Monday morning in May, I woke up with the knowledge that I was going to Club Med Punta Cana at the end of the week – the trip we had won from CTC Travel.  I had no idea whatsoever of what I was taking with me.

The Resort Life

I am the Museum Girl, not the Resort Girl.  I know what to take on cruises.  I’m great at packing for a road trip.  However, I didn’t know what to take to a resort, because that hadn’t been my life up to that point.

So I imagined a really casual five-day cruise without any ports of call and no dressing for dinner.  My wardrobe began to form in my head.  Swimsuits, sundresses and shorts.  I scratched my head a little more and tried to dream up every eventuality.  Maybe I’d need jeans?  What about some slacks?  I stood around in my closet gathering up things I might need.  Something to sleep in, lingerie, sandals, sneakers.  The items began to pile up.  In the end I took a lot more than I needed, because I just didn’t know.

The Baggage Thing

So, if you travel at all, you know what Spirit is famous for – no frills, but a fee for everything.  I looked online for all of Spirit’s baggage fees and thought I was pretty clever.  I was sure we’d be able to get by without the additional cost of carry-ons, because I’d managed to fit us into one suitcase for five days for our cruise.  Of course, since we drove to Galveston, the weight didn’t matter, but I was certain I could fit everything into two suitcases – and I did.

We weighed the suitcases with our handy dandy suitcase scale and put the them next to the door.  The alarm would be going off at 3:30 AM the next morning, because our flight was at the ungodly hour of 6 AM.

The Other Baggage Thing

We parked our car at Park & Fly, like we always do, and were delivered to our terminal.  As we stood near the Spirit Airlines acclimating ourselves to their procedures, a very nice lady came up to us and offered to help.  She was happy to see the confirmations proving we had checked in online.  Then she grabbed a bag and set it on their scale.  I didn’t have a worry in the world.  Both bags were under 50 pounds – the magic airline weight limit.  Or at least that had been the magic airline weight limit the last time I had flown on a real airline.

I should have worried.  The weight of our bags brought a frown to our friendly helper’s face, but it was nothing compared to the one on my husband’s face.  We were going to have to pay an additional $30 per bag each way.  $120!!  The weight limit for Spirit Airlines is 40 pounds!

My stomach dropped to somewhere near my shoes.  We’ve had vacations ruined for less than $120 in unexpected fees.  Bill is no fan of traveling and he hates fees – they’re like paying interest, only much more careless. I waited for my dressing down, but it never came.  We’d both been looking at the Spirit website for days.  I’d emailed him a reminder of the permitted size of his personal item.  We’d both weighed the suitcases.  He wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t in trouble.

We finished getting our boarding passes and got in line to begrudgingly pay our first round of $60 baggage fees.  (BTW, CTC was in no way responsible for our frustration at the gate.  They didn’t book our air and I didn’t ask them about luggage fees!)  There was a wait by the gate and then we climbed on board Spirit Airlines.  Come fly with us next week.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Museums, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

The Big Travel Questions

TRAVEL TALK: HOW LONG CAN WE STAY AND HOW MUCH CAN WE SPEND?

My poor husband!  The minute we get home from a trip, I’m already thinking ahead to the next one.  I’m trying to figure out just how quickly I can get him out of town again, how long he will let us stay and how much money I can get away with spending.  So, learning that I’d just won a five day trip to a Club Med resort from CTC, my favorite travel agency, I really only had one question.  When can we go?

Which Club Med?

Sandra Rubio, my travel agent, had another question for me.  Which Club Med do you want to go to?  While there are Club Meds all over the world, our prize was limited to Club Meds in the North American hemisphere, so that made it a little easier.  Sandra talked through the choices with me and I narrowed it down to two – Sandpiper Bay in Florida and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

Well, really I wanted Punta Cana, because I’d never been to the DR, but my husband was hoping our nieces and nephews might want to come along and for them Florida was more realistic.  That would have been really fun, but when, after a flurry of phone calls and emails we realized it would be just my hubby and me, that not only decided the where, but the when.  If it was going to be a romantic getaway, then it made sense to go for our anniversary.  We had to wait several days for our preferred dates to be approved, but once they were, we were set to go in May.

Let the Research Begin

Once I’ve pegged down a date, a destination and have an idea of the budget, travel planning really begins for me in earnest, but this trip was very, very different.  I am the Museum Girl.  Punta Cana is not exactly a hot bed of museums.  Punta Cana doesn’t even have one museum.  I couldn’t figure out what I was going to do with myself.

I went to the Club Med website.  It had lists and lists of activities, but they were very active activities, like water sports, golfing, archery and tennis.  That’s not exactly my cup of tea – and yes, I know I’m weird.  There were also amazing pictures of beaches and swimming pools.  That’s not exactly my cup of tea, either.  Yes, I know that makes me even weirder, but it began to dawn on me that I’d just signed up for five days of relaxation and I really don’t know how to do that.

And Then There was Airfare

While everything about our five days in Punta Cana were covered, the airfare was up to us.  We really didn’t think that was such a big deal until we tried to book our flight.  The first big surprise was the number of dollar signs.  I mean the Dominican Republic is just right there on the other side of Cuba.  Why did it cost such a fortune to get there?

The next big surprise was the big, huge price gap between Spirit Air and every other airlines in the world.  It was such a substantial amount that we never actually considered one of the other airlines, but we were a little stuck, because we didn’t think we were Spirit Airlines’ target customers.

It took us a little while to wrap our minds around it, but we booked our airfare to Punta Cana on Spirit.  And then the great wait began without a single museum to research.  Friends who were aware of our upcoming trip would ask if we were ready to travel .  I would smile, shrug and say something pleasant like, “Of course,” “Can’t wait,” or “Sure,” but I wasn’t so sure I was ready for five days of uninterrupted relaxation.

DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Thank You CTC!

TRAVEL THERE: FIVE DAYS IN PARADISE

Whew, we’re finally through with Egypt.  I was there for only a few weeks, but I blogged about it for months on end.  We recently also finished up a series on Mondays about our disastrous cruise on Royal Caribbean, so on Mondays I’m back to sharing tips on visiting Dallas, whether you live here or are planning to visit here.  On Wednesdays we are about to travel to the Dominican Republic.

Chasing Dreams

Next year is our 25th wedding anniversary and while I’m not quite ready to share our plans for that just yet, let me tell you what happened when I visited a travel show last January.  I thought all we’d be doing for this year’s vacation time was taking a cheapie cruise for Bill’s birthday and taking a road trip to Michigan to visit family, but I was looking ahead.

My travel sights were firmly set on, on next year’s plans.  My husband had nixxed my idea of having a vow renewal in our backyard and supplanted the backyard ceremony with a much bigger idea.  If folks have destination weddings, why couldn’t we have a destination vow renewal on board a cruise ship in the Mediterranean?

So when my friends at CTC announced their annual travel show, I circled the date on my calendar and called up my bestie, who is my travel show buddy.  I also suggested that hubby might want to join us for some of the seminars so he could be on the same page with me.  Everything was set for a travel-intensive day of cruise shopping!

Great Travel Show

I love travel shows, but my favorite is CTC’s, because Sandra Rubio, my travel agent, is always there.  She knows me.  She gets me.  She knows our budget.  She knows my husband and my bestie.  She knows my wish list and preferences.  Dreaming about travel is fun whether the dream is a road trip to Oklahoma or a safari in Kenya, but making my travel dreams come true means talking to Sandra.

Like most travel shows, CTC has table after table of travel vendors all touting their wares.  Some travel shows also have celebrity guests to address a wide variety of travel topics, but primarily try to convince you to watch their shows, visit their website, read their blog, follow their social sites and/or buy their books and travel accessories.  That’s not what CTC does.

Instead, CTC has travel professionals come in and participate in very information-rich panel discussions.  I love me some Samantha Brown, but she doesn’t get down in the dirt with me and discuss trends in cruise cabins or how an ocean-going cruise differs from a river cruise and how they both stack up to a resort vacation.

A Few Weeks Later

If you are a regular on my site, you may even remember the post I wrote about this year’s show.  We’d already booked Bill’s birthday cruise, so when Sandra left me a message a few weeks later, letting me know she had some good news, I was hoping for a cabin upgrade.  Little did I know the news was way better than that!

As we’d entered the travel show, we’d dutifully signed up for the drawing.  In past years, I’ve won golf caps, totebags and other travel chotskies.  Throughout the day they write the winning ticket numbers on a white board, so as I go back and forth between the seminars and the vendors tables I always take a peek at the board.  This year I hadn’t been very lucky.  No chotskies for me.

As we left the show, one of the travel agency employees encouraged us to check the board and we assured her we’d been doing that all day to no avail.  She handed me a nice Royal Caribbean backpack and I was happy as a clam.  Heck, I was already thrilled with the huge stack of cruise brochures I had scored at the vendor tables.  The backpack was mere lagniappe.

Sandra left her message one busy afternoon and while I was intrigued, I wasn’t intrigued enough to drop what I was doing and call.  She called me again early the next day.  I could tell she was excited about something, but I didn’t suspect a thing. In fact, I had taken her call, but I had about three other things on my desk that really had my attention.

Then she told me I had won a vacation!  And not just any vacation but a five day stay at our choice of Club Meds in the North American hemisphere.  I hope Sandra understands how sorry I am for breaking her eardrum when she gave me the news.  After verifying several times that I wasn’t dreaming, I jumped out of my desk chair and ran down the stairs, squealing the news to Bill.  There went the other eardrum.

Thanks CTC and Sandra Rubio.  I loved you guys anyway, but this trip sure made me happy!  come back next week and I’ll tell you all about it!

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.