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, 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.

 

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.

DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Hanging on the Balcony

The balcony, our favorite part of the ship!

TRAVEL THERE:  DO YOU NEED A BALCONY?

While I am a strong proponent of getting an outside cabin, I can’t say a balcony is absolutely necessary. It did save my bacon on our Norwegian cruise, however. Let me explain.

My Best Balcony So Far

While I had a great time with my hubby and my bestie on the Norwegian cruise, I hated the ship. The pool area was so crowded, it was like Central Expressway at rush hour.

It was a huge ship, but wherever I went on board I felt cramped, like they’d tried to squeeze two ships worth of activity into one boat. Spaces I traditionally enjoy, like a library, were laughable – cramped corners included so they could put them on the list of amenities, but too small to enjoy. To make things worse, I wasn’t feeling all that well, so I needed a quiet place to hang out.

Voila! We had three days at sea on that trip and I spent most of that time on my balcony, quietly reading books on my Kindle. The space was an escape from the hectic nature of Freestyle Cruising, which had everything in the world but what I wanted.  As we entered the ports, Bill and I would enjoy the thrill from our balcony, often sharing the excitement with my bestie, who was two balconies down.  Did I love my balcony? Yes. Did it serve my purpose on that cruise? Yes. Do I have to have one every time? Nope!

Nice, but Not Necessary

For example, we had a balcony on our Viking River cruise, but we didn’t utilize it all that much. For one thing, it was April and still a little chilly along the Danube. Also the longship had great places for relaxation in its public spaces. I liked the peaceful serenity I could find at many spots on the ship, but I also liked that I got to connect a little with humanity, without having their deck chair bump against mine.

Perhaps the main reason the balcony was not so critical to my enjoyment was how busy we were. Every morning was a shore excursion. After lunch we’d head out and do a little exploring on our own. From breakfast to bedtime we had few moments which required us to entertain ourselves, so the balcony was under-utilized.  Did I use it? Yes. I’d go out there to catch up in my journal while Bill took his afternoon nap.  I’d step out in the morning for some pre-breakfast fresh air – but I would have been fine with just a window.

I thought the balcony would come in handy as we sailed through the Wachau Valley, but an announcement informed me most of the important sights would be on the other side of the ship – something I should have more carefully studied as I planned the cruise.  I also discovered my side of the ship was on the river side when we docked.  We liked that, but if I had hoped to sit on my balcony and observe a city at close hand, I would have been disappointed.

So the bottom line is this, take some time to study the ship and figure out if your balcony is going to give you the experience you are hoping for.  You want to watch the Wachau Valley from your balcony, then learn which direction your ship will be headed and be sure you are on the side that will be on the north as you cruise through.  Want to watch the hustle and bustle in port, then be sure you are on the side of the ship which has the gangplank.  The more you know, the better you’ll utilize your balcony.

That’s our balcony experience and I hope it will help you decide whether or not a balcony will be worth the investment when you take a cruise.  Come back next week and we’ll explore cruising with a suite.

 

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

Stateroom, Suite or Cabin?

TRAVEL THERE: WHERE WILL YOU LAY YOUR HEAD?

How tight is your budget?  How particular are you about your personal space?  Are you claustrophobic, acrophobic or prone to sea-sickness?  These are the kinds of questions you have to ask yourself as you consider what kind of accommodations will best suit your cruise experience. 

Keeping It Affordable

Are you all about economy? Check out interior cabins on the lower decks. That’s the most economical part of the ship. Don’t plan on spending much time in your cabin though. It will have the basics, but it will be tight and you might find yourself wishing for a little sunshine. And here’s another tip. If you’re afraid of seasickness, try to get a cabin mid-ship.

For our first cruise, we had an interior cabin and yes it was tight, but we had a great time.  Not only was it our first cruise, it was our honeymoon.  Tight quarters added to the romance, but it was pretty spartan.  The tiny pedestal sink had no counters and no drawers, but I managed to brush my teeth and apply eyeliner as needed.

But that’s me.  I’m not the luxuriating in my cabin sort of person.  If you are someone who needs to see the sun when you wake up or navigating tight quarters puts you in a bad mood, then don’t save so much money you are miserable every moment you are in your cabin.  If you are really looking forward to some private time on the ship, then you should also look elsewhere.  In an inside cabin you will barely have room to walk around your bed.

Taking It Outside

If you can’t stand the thought of a windowless week, but still want some economy, look for an exterior cabin. At the very least you will get a porthole.  Some some lines have huge picture windows in the exterior cabins. We’ve had these accommodations, too.

A porthole graced our first outside room.  To be honest with you, that small spot of sunshine was not the best part of the upgrade.  Suddenly we had more space.  That’s what made the extra dollars worth it.  With a little more space the ship can start throwing in exciting extras like counters, storage and perhaps someplace to sit besides the bed.

Our next outside room was actually on a river cruise and instead of a porthole, one wall of the cabin was a huge picture window.  That’s been one of my favorite cruise experiences.  It was a treat to open the curtains and watch the banks of the Nile pass by.  The space was light-filled, airy and even roomy.  That cruise is what turned us on to river cruising and we have become solid fans.

But back to ocean-going ships.  These outside rooms can come in a wide variety and what’s there makes all the difference.  Usually there are pictures or drawing of the room online, but that’s still only going to give you a hint of what to expect.  For instance, on a Carnival cruise, we were in the last room on a hallway and our huge window faced where we had been, rather than where we were going.  None of my research told me how much we’d enjoy that window.  We loved looking out at the wake of the ship and if my memory serves me right, we could actually open the window a bit for fresh sea air – something that  big picture window did not allow.

Interior and exterior cabins are the easiest ways to watch your cruise dollars, but if economy is not your first concern, then have you ever got a world of opportunity to relax in.  Come back next week and we’ll take it to the balcony.

Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

How to Google Your Way to the Perfect Cruise

TRAVEL HERE: FINDING YOUR TRAVEL DREAMS ONLINE

So, last week I shared a few secrets I’d learned about Google and how knowing those things can give you a better experience if you decide to shop online for a cruise.  Most of those suggestions were pretty basic, but their primary focus was what to avoid.  This week you’ll learn more about what to do.

Where Do You Want to Go?

And don’t say I don’t know!  I love to travel and in theory, I would pretty much get on any cruise ship going anywhere.  In practice, I’ve only been on one cruise for every decade that I’ve lived.  I’m doing everything I can to raise the ratio of cruises to years, but the point is this, don’t hesitate over where to start.  Close you eyes and point at a map.  Dreaming is free!

If you’re curious about Bali, then start your research there.  Before you actually book a cruise, you may be taking a 3 day cruise to nowhere out of Miami, not Bali, but you’re just practicing!  The first thing you need to know is what cruise lines go to where you want to visit.  As you research Bali, you will start discover things that will help when you start narrowing down your real search.

I hope my next cruise is to the Mediterranean.  When I Google “Mediterranean Cruises,” I quickly discover there are at least 12 cruise lines with itineraries in the Mediterranean and that’s just on the first page of results.  If I’m just shopping, then why not start clicking.  Don’t think of this as work.  Think of it as organized day dreaming. Get comfy and maybe get a glass of wine.

When Do You Want to Go? 

At this point, your research can take you in several directions, but if you have a specific time for your cruise in mind, then go with that.  I want my next cruise to be on my 25th wedding anniversary, which is in May of 2019.  If I Google, “Mediterranean Cruises May 2019,” the number of cruise lines goes down significantly and I start seeing sites like Expedia, Cruise Critic and various cruise lines.  Start sampling all of these sites.  Some will draw you in and you will find you’re still on the site an hour later.  Others will just look like a list of prices or you won’t like the font – so just skip these.

One of the tricks of saving money on a cruise is to be flexible about your dates.  If I demand to be at a certain place on a certain day for my anniversary cruise, then my choices will at least be limited and I may find no cruise ship will be where I want on the day I want to be there.  So keep your mind open about a date.  You want to narrow the choices down to a reasonable number, but not be stuck with only one choice.

What Itinerary Best Suits You?  

This is very subjective.  Many factors play into choosing an itinerary.  What cities do you want to see?  Do you want to spend some time at sea, enjoying your ship?  Would you like to spend a few days at the beginning and/or end of the cruise in a particular city?  Do you want to visit cities with museums and historical sites or do you prefer one beach party after another?  How many days do you want to cruise?

My husband and I are in this phase of our search for the 2019 cruise.  He’s leaning towards the Western Mediterranean with stops in places like Monte Carlo, St. Tropez and Portofino.  I’m more interested in the Eastern Mediterranean with beautiful Venice and Croatia, Montenegro and perhaps a bit of Greece.  However, we know we want something in the 8-10 day range, so this helps us narrow the search a little more.

By now you should be enjoying the process of shopping for your cruise.  If this all sounds like too much work, just call your travel agent.  They’ll ask you all the questions and help you find a cruise you will love, but you’ll have to trust them.  Doing your own research ensures you’ll love your cruise.  Come back next week and we’ll talk about what kind of room you want.

Architecture, ART, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

A Lovely Afternoon in Passau

5p-oooTRAVEL THERE: GLADLY GUIDELESS IN GERMANY

After lunch Bill and I ventured into Passau on our own.  While we’d been frustrated by our guide’s demeanor during the morning, he had led us through a shopping area and shown us a nice riverside walkway.  Passau is no Vienna and we’d had lunch, so Bill was amenable to hoofing it around on our own.

 

A Marvelous Afternoon

While our morning tour had left a bad taste in our mouth, it had not besmirched the charming little town.  The first item on my agenda was to find some tokens for my friends.  A thorough search of the room did not turn up any of the darling gingerbread ornaments I bought in Cesky Krumlov, so I needed to get busy.  I wanted to get something for my Bible Study girls and then I had a couple of other friends for whom I wanted to buy something more substantial.

Ludwigstrasse
Ludwigstrasse

Passau has a significant pedestrian area with shops called Ludwigstrasse and nearby are a couple multistory of enclosed malls.  My patient husband wandered through all of these with me, hunting down the appropriate souvenirs – only I wasn’t finding much that I thought was appropriate.  Finally, we wandered into a knick-knack store and while most of the items were tacky bibelots   with the words “Passau, Germany” emblazoned on them, I found a shelf populated with charming ceramic cherubs molded into a variety of poses.  I’d found the trinkets I wanted for my Bible Study girls.

5p-ooo-3Strolling Along the River

I was still baffled about what to get for my best friend and my next door neighbor, who is truly the best next door neighbor in the world, but Mr. Bill was ready to roll.  We headed toward the river and were hugely rewarded.

The morning had been chilly in more ways than one.  Yes, our guide had been Mr. Rude, but the weather was overly crisp, also.  I’d layered up with a denim jacket and a wool cape, but had still been uncomfortable.  The afternoon weather was so glorious that we might have been in Dallas on one of its best days.

We discovered it was the first really warm day for Passau that spring and the whole town had turned out to enjoy the river.  Children tossed balls into the air.  Lovers ogled one another on shared blankets.  Giggly girls shared secrets strolling along the river.  Another girl sat on a stairway leading down to the river captivated by a book.  Beer drinking students toasted everyone that walked by.  It was like a movie set!

Once More to the Ludwigstrasse

Armed with a map the rude guide had provided, Bill and I maneuvered around the finger of land pointing to the confluence of the Inn, the Ilz and the Danube.  When we got back to the boat, Bill agreed to hit the Ludwigstrasse with me one more time.  I was in a tizzy.  I had to finish packing and dress for dinner soon, but I just didn’t want to head home without something for my friends.

As I bounced from storefront to storefront appalled at the pricing, Bill came to the rescue.  One of the clothing stores was having a bit of a sidewalk sale and Bill pointed it out.  I doubted anything would be affordable, even marked down, because all the prices I had seen were pretty steep.  Bill helped me figure out the exchange rate and the discount.  Suddenly, I was all smiles.  Not only had we found exactly what I’d love to get for Deb and Sherry, but I wasn’t going to break the bank!

It was a quiet night on board.  The evening happy hour was devoted to disembarking instructions.  Dinner was delicious, but sad.  We’d made wonderful friends and we didn’t know when we’d see them again.  Then there we had to be out early in the morning.  For all practical purposes, the cruise was over.

Come back next week and I’ll get you back to Dallas.  In the meantime, enjoy this video of our final stop.