Cruising, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Teach Google to Help You Travel

Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas

TRAVEL TALK: GET OUT THERE!

This afternoon I’ll be boarding Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas for a short cruise in the Gulf.  We dreamed up this idea one recent Sunday evening to celebrate Bill’s birthday and by Tuesday afternoon our cruise was booked.  I would have had it booked the next day, but Bill needed a day to cogitate.  Three weeks later, we’ll be on board.

CTC – Tell Sandra I sent you

How’d You Do That?

Moments after booking our cruise, I shared my glee on Facebook.  That Sunday a friend asked me how I had done it, because she figures that’s the only way she’ll ever convince her husband to go – a last minute decision.  I was a little surprised at the question.  I am so travel-focused I thought nothing of booking a cruise on short notice.  I Googled around Sunday night, had a list of the best bargains ready for Bill Monday morning and called my travel agent Tuesday morning.

Let’s start with the travel agent.  Use one!  Mine is Sandra Rubio at CTC and I highly recommend her, but wherever you are, find one and use them.  I like to do my own preliminary research, but when it comes to booking, I trust Sandra.

See, I have booked online.  It takes forever.  I’ve booked on the phone.  It takes even longer.  What’s worse, you cannot trust anything they tell you.  They don’t know.  They’ve never been there.  They may never have been out of their small town in Minnesota, but they are advising you on how to book your cruise.  You’ll have this one-time transaction with them and you could never find them again if your life depended on it.  Yet you are willing to trust them with at least $1000 of your money and more importantly your vacation!

Any deal you see online, your travel agent can get for you for the exact same price and you don’t pay them a penny in commission.  It’s their job and the cruise lines are so happy for them to do it, they gladly pay them for it.  So please, once you have an idea of your budget and where you want to go – call your travel agent!

What Not to Do!

Amazed that my friend needed coaching on booking a cruise, I asked a few pertinent questions, trying to find out what her issues were.  There were two.  She was using her phone to click Facebook advertisements.  Don’t do that!  Google what you want and do it on a computer – either a desktop or laptop.

My friend said, “When I click on the link, what I get has nothing to do with the ad.  It’s called click bait.  Just don’t.

The other issue is space.  There is only so much you can see on your phone – even if the site is optimized for it.  On a cruise site, whether it is an actual cruise company, your local travel agency or a travel consolidator, there are all kinds of tabs, buttons, searches.  You can look for places, ports, dates, ships – all kinds of stuff, but if you are looking at your phone, its like kissing through a screen door.  You can’t fall in love that way.

Go Googling

Just for fun, I googled “I want to cruise” as I wrote this post.  The first three listings were ads.  Ignore those.  They are actually marked as ads on the results page, but you have no idea how many people I discover who are amazed at this.  They’ve been looking at it for years and never saw it.

The next four results were for a site called “iwantacruise.com.”  Ignore those, too.  Somebody paid big bucks to get that url, but that doesn’t mean they know anything about cruising.  Suspect all sites that mirror your query.  In addition, I usually ignore everything from Yelp, Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon, Thumbtack, Expedia and such until I know more.  All these types of sources let companies pay to get noticed.  It might as well be a straight out ad.  Yes, there are reviews from consumers, but until you know more, you aren’t ready for reviews.

Below that is where the good stuff is – the actual cruise lines and Cruise Critic (which is a great resource).  Because it was a non-specific query, I then got a You Tube video.  A few responses later I found Carnival Cruise Line and found out they have a pretty good website crew, because they dominated the next 10-20 listings.  That still doesn’t tell you whether Carnival is going where you want to go or even if they are a good cruise line, only that they invest money in SEO (search engine optimization) specialists.

In the search above, the first cruise line I got was Royal Caribbean.  You want to know why?  It has to do with what I’ve been looking at recently.  I’ve been all over the internet looking for information for my cruise.  I’ve researched shore excursions, looked for reviews of the on board dining, maps of the ship and the price of beverages.  I’ve been in and out of the Royal Caribbean ‘My Cruises” site, booking my cruise extras.  I’ve got emails in my Gmail from my travel agent about my cruise and an email from Royal Caribbean about my Crown & Anchor membership.  In case you hadn’t realized it yet, Google is nosy.  It makes itself aware of what I am doing on the internet – whether it’s online searches, emails or even social media.  When I asked about a cruise, it assumed I wanted to know about the cruise I was about to board.  A little creepy, but true.

So, to find out what you want to know on the internet, you first have to know what you’re looking at.  What’s clickbait?  What’s an ad?  What’s real?  I live and breathe this stuff, but Google is gambling that we don’t.  If you’re going to use Google as your resource, invest the time in getting to know it.

Long-Tailed Keyword Phrases

This day and time, the more specific your query is, the more likely you will get the information you want.  These types of queries are called long-tailed keyword phrases.  You may not care what they are called, but they are your friend.  When I came home on that recent Sunday night, I didn’t google cruises.  I googled “3 day cruises from Galveston,” because I knew that’s the port I wanted to depart from and because I wanted the shortest cruise I could find.  I also googled a couple of other things like “cheap Galveston cruises.” I usually try several queries to see which gives me the best responses. Then I start shopping, but I’ve already gone on too long about this for one post.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you more.

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

Travel Show Treats

TRAVEL HERE: VACATIONS START HERE

Remember when they tried to tell us travel agents were going to disappear, because everyone was going to shop for their travel online.  Well, go ahead and shop, but when it gets time to buy, call your travel agent.  They haven’t gone anywhere and they still book the greater majority of travel.  Besides that, they are free and that’s my price.  My travel agency is CTC  and my travel agent is Sandra Rubio.  Let me tell you about their recent travel show.

What I Didn’t Know

I’ve traveled a lot in my life, but it would be impossible to know everything about the travel industry, because things change all the time.  The the more you know, quite frankly, the better you will travel.  Most of the things I heard at CTC’s travel expo I already knew, but as always, I picked up little tidbits.  Some things help me get better value for my travel dollar.  Others introduce me to exciting new opportunities.

Here’s some of the new tidbits I can picked up this time:

  • BOOK CRUISES EARLY and the more you care about when, where, what boat and what cabin, the earlier you need to book.  2019 is already filling up and some of the best things in 2020 are already gone.  And the industry is very, very serious about this.
  • Yes, you can get short cruises.  Used to be the norm was 14-21 days, but that doesn’t work for Boomers or Millennials and that’s who’s driving the industry now.  There are lots of short 4-5 day cruises leaving American ports and 8-10 day cruises all over the world.
  • Say good-bye to losing your boarding card.  Royal Caribbean will be giving you a watch programmed with all your essentials.  Another line is working on a piece of jewelry that can be worn in several ways that will hold you essential info – not just your beverage program, but how you like your martinis!  Thank RFID technology.
  • Being single is becoming less of problem.  Remember those Boomers and Millennials who are driving the industry?  Well, most of them are single and even if they are not, some of them prefer traveling alone.  The travel industry has listened!  There’s an emerging market of single bookings available.  Price quoted double occupancy is still the norm, but you’re no longer required to make friends with a stranger or put up with your crazy cousin to afford traveling alone.  You’ll still have to do your homework, for now.  There are limited choices, but watch for this to pick up momentum.  For now, check out Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Cunard.
  • Get a passport!  Changes are coming.  Security and documentation for travel, even domestic travel, is quickly getting more and more demanding.  While for the time being you can still enjoy closed loop cruising or domestic flights without a passport, the clock is ticking.  They’ve got things in the works that will make flight documentation so cumbersome that you’ll want a passport – even if you’re just flying from Dallas to San Antonio for a long weekend.  And by the way, 13 airports in our world now have bio-metric security measures.  Expect it on your travels soon.
  • Thank Millennials for  community spaces in your hotel.  Have you noticed business centers have moved to the front of the hotel?  There was a time when finding the business center to check your email or send a fax (Ha! remember faxes?) meant wandering into the bowels of your hotel and you’d be very alone when you got there.  If you’ve visited a new hotel or a newly renovated one, then you’ve probably noticed bright, comfortable workspaces near the entrance.  These inviting communal spaces, the snack/wine bar and other property amenities are there to lure Millennials.  Since so many of them are self-employed, tele-commuting from home or working in other alternative spaces, they crave getting out of the four walls of their hotel room.  They want places to meet with their clients without taking them back to their room or going to Starbucks.  Their demand is our gain.  Not only is there a more attractive place to check your email, chances are there will be an inviting buzz in the lobby around 5 o’clock, the workout room will not be a grungy place where old gym equipment goes to die and who knows, there might even be grill on the patio!
  • All the new fees are not a product of your imagination – get used to it.  It started with the airlines, but it didn’t stop there.  First, it was baggage fees and box lunches.  Now, there’s fee for having an assigned seat or legroom.   Who knows when they’ll figure out how to charge you a fee for the air you breathe!  But that’s not the worst part.  The hotels, resorts, car rental agencies, tour operators, etc., etc. etc. of the world observed what the airline industry did and now you’ll find they are adding fees to their tab, too.  Tickets represent only 71% of airline revenue and with Spirit Airlines, that goes down to 60% – everything else is fees.  Hotels took in $2.7 Billion (with a B!) during a recent year and the number is just beginning to climb.  Bottom line, that online price is just the beginning.  Another reason to get to know your local travel agent!
  • New ships coming!  Cruising just gets more popular everyday.  Ninety-seven new cruise ships are scheduled to be launched from 2017-2025.  Yes, some of them are huge, like Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, but smaller ships are wildly popular, too.  Ritz Carlton will be launching 298-passenger yachts. Emerald,a river cruising enterprise, is about to enter the small ocean-going ship market.  Celebrity is about to launch a new ship concept with The Edge.  Viking is churning out longships and small ocean-going ships as fast as it can.

That should be enough to tempt you off your sofa (even with all the fees).  So come on out and choose a vacation.  You’ll be glad you did.  Tell them Jane sent you!

 

 

 

Cruising, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Travel Value vs. Travel Bargain

More Marvelous Brochures
Another Marvelous Brochure

TRAVEL THERE: BARGAIN IS A RELATIVE TERM

So, last week I was talking about my conversion to travel agencies for booking cruises over doing it myself online.  I bragged on getting our Norwegian cruise online cheap, cheap, cheap! I don’t recall which site finally won our travel dollars, but we couldn’t believe how inexpensively we were going cruising. Then the nickel and dime-ing began – and some of the nickels were pretty hefty: airfare, taxis, hotels, gratuities, special dining, shore excursions, wine packages and the list goes on. We quickly doubled the price of the “all-inclusive” cruise.  I wish I would have called CTC, the travel agency who sponsored a recent travel show here in Dallas.  They know sort-of-all-inclusive from truly all-inclusive.

Cruising with an Agent

Had I called CTC, they would have asked me where I wanted to go, why I wanted to go and what my budget was. If I’d done that, instead of looking for a cheap cruise,  they wouldn’t have let me return to ports of call I had already visited or allowed me to hang about for so many days at sea on a ship loaded to the gills with screaming kids. More importantly, there is no way they would have signed me up to go on the shore excursion with Josie.

A good travel agent will not sell you a cruise based on price point, because they know there are price points and then again there is the real price.  If you don’t know what you’re doing you could go broke saving money. A travel agent takes your travel budget, gives you the most cruise you can get for your travel dollar and they’ll made sure you’re on the right cruise. That’s their business.

How They Do What They Do

Time and again at the show, from company rep after company rep, I heard that the earlier you book a cruise with your travel agent, the better your deal will be and the more bang you will get for your buck. The cruise lines schedule their cruises and then they let the big boy travel agents choose their blocks of cabins at the absolute best price anyone is going to get them for – ever. The bigger the boy, the better the block and the lower the price. CTC has been booking cruises for almost thirty years and they are a very big boy. If you book your own cruise, there are cabins that you never even get to know exist and if you did find out it existed, you’d never be able to book it.

Sure, you can go online and see prices that seem to be cheaper than a travel agent’s, but you are not looking apples to apples. Though all cabins on any particular deck may seem to be the same, they’re not. Cabins may be right next door to one another, but a travel agent is privy to which one has something obscuring the view, adding to the noise level or limiting the storage space. The better cabin is not going to be on the bargain website.

What’s more, when CTC books their block there is some heavy negotiating going on. CTC knows the value of their reputation and they know the cruise lines want them to be the ones filling their rooms. Along with being able to negotiate the very best prices for the very best cabins and suites, they are able to score some pretty amazing perks which you would never be able to get on that website.

See, the travel agents are the cruise lines best customers. Even if you cruise full-time, you are never going to be able to buy as many cruises as your travel agent does.  So why would the cruise line give you the kind of discount your travel agent is getting?  Why would they give you perks?  The truth is, they wouldn’t.

Why You Should Let Them Do What They Do

It’s called service.  Who do you think is going to be more willing to discuss shore excursions with you? A wholesaler who depends solely on volume or a retailer who heavily depends on repeat customers? And should something go wrong along the way (which happens more frequently than anyone wants to admit) who do you think is going to be more responsive? Good luck getting the wholesaler to respond to your calls and emails. At the show I heard about a cruise line who held an Australian cruise for several hours for one couple who booked with CTC.  Who cares how cheap your cruise was if you never got to take it due to our weird weather in Dallas?

The Cruise Lines Know

A travel agent could have told me all this stuff and I would have listened politely while thinking, “uh huh, sure.”  In fact, I’m pretty sure I heard most of this awhile back at a travel show from a travel agent.  Then I went ahead and booked my cruise online.  But these were the cruise lines talking.  Many of them can take your reservation online and never have to involve anyone, not a wholesaler or an agent, but they know the score.  They know all about the perks they give to the travel agents and who has access to the best prices for the best cabins and suites.  They know the travel agent isn’t going to steer you to their decks unless you are the right cruiser for their ship and that you are more likely to cruise with them again if you are that right cruiser.

Yep, someday I’m taking that luxury river cruise and I can tell you right now that I’m booking with CTC.  Next week we’ll talk about the Travel & Adventure Show, then (if I don’t get too long-winded) we’ll get back to the nostalgia!

Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Travel Show Tidbits

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Don’t you just love a gorgeous travel brochure?

TRAVEL THERE: LOCAL TRAVEL AGENCY HOSTS FREE TRAVEL SHOW

Allow me to interrupt my nostalgic travel stories to share some tidbits I picked up at a recent travel show.  It was presented by CTC Travel, a local travel agent.  Unlike the Travel and Adventure extravaganza landing in Dallas in a couple of weekends (I have my tickets.  Do you have yours?) which fills up a large section of the Dallas Convention Center, this show fits nicely into a couple of meeting rooms in Richardson’s Hyatt Hotel.  There were only forty or so vendors and no zip-lining, belly dancing or cooking shows.  However, for me, the afternoon was well-spent and I thank CTC for offering it to us, especially since they do so for free.

Gorgeous Travel Brochures  

There is little that gives me more pleasure than a gorgeous travel brochure.  Sure, I love to watch travel shows on TV and I spend a lot of time researching destinations online, but what really gets my juices flowing and makes me think about what I’m willing to sacrifice to go to faraway places is a delicious catalog like the Oceania brochure above.  SCORE!!

My very own travel library
My very own travel agency (minus the agents)

The CTC travel show was a bonanza of travel brochures.  Just in case someone there thought that lady (me), who was grabbing up every brochure in sight, merely took them home where they were never looked at again, just take a look at the impromptu travel agency I set up in my den.  The ottoman features luxury and river cruising, the desk samples yachts and clipper ships, while the sofa has your standard ocean-going lines and the table holds land packages.  Where would you like to go?

But Why a Travel Agent?

After gathering up two tote bags of travel brochures to warm up my winter hibernation, I made my way over to the lecture room just about the time the land package group started a panel discussion.  I stayed there for the rest of the afternoon soaking up travel tidbits.  As I drove home, I realized I had been converted.  For my next cruise I will be calling CTC.

I love planning my rambling road trips and have a great time sifting my hidden gems from Trip Advisor, Expedia et al.   Our trips last from ten to fourteen days and if I choose a loser from time to time, we might have an uncomfortable night or even waste an hour or two, but that’s OK, because there’s plenty of other wonderful experiences waiting for us along the way.  However, if I make a mistake choosing a cruise, then I’m screwed for the whole trip.  I know that from experience.

Our last cruise was a Freestyle Cruise on Norwegian, one of the most frequently-awarded cruise ships on the seas.  I was with my handsome husband and my best friend, so how could that be a bad thing – but I knew we were on the wrong cruise ship.  That’s not Norwegian’s fault.  Thousands of folks will tell you what an amazing cruise Norwegian serves up.  The fault was all ours.  We were looking for a bargain online and we got one.  I am quite sure CTC would have steered us in another direction completely.

Oh my, I’ve already worn out my welcome for today and I have more to tell you.  Well, come back next week and I’ll tell you the rest of the story.