Tag Archives: Jane Sadek

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.

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The Cathedral in Sharm el Shiek

TRAVEL THERE: SOMETHING YOU WOULDN’T EXPECT

After our amazing day on the Red Sea, it was nap time – only instead of napping, I washed my hair.  I had borrowed a towel from the room for our boat trip and the room steward (no maids) penalized me for it.  We’d started the stay with an armload of fluffy towels, but when I got back from the day on the yacht, the towel nazi had only left me one bath towel to accompany the one (I guess) he thought I was trying to steal.  It was funny how they all spoke such great English until that very moment.  Suddenly, we couldn’t communicate at all.  It was a small thing, but it left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth. 

Out for the Evening

Niece Maggie and her family invited us out for dinner.  They wanted to show us the hotel they’d stayed at during their honeymoon.  They hadn’t booked an over-the-top suite, like Bassem and Mariam were enjoying at the Baron Resort, but Maggie and Shady wanted us to share their memories.  Except for some security rigmarole going in and out of the hotels we really hadn’t had to deal with much in the way of security in Sharm.  That changed on this evening.

They let us into the hotel with relative ease, but then we wanted to go take a look at the pools – yes I said pools, as in plural.  For some reason this was a problem.  Maybe they thought we were going to try to swim.  Maybe they thought we were trying to gain access to guestrooms.  I don’t know, but they certainly didn’t want us to visit the pool.  Bill and I weren’t all that worried about it.  A hotel pool is a hotel pool – am I right?

However, it was obvious Maggie and Shady were really disappointed, so Mr. Bill went into action.  He strolled over to the desk and gave them a piece of his mind.  He told them the honeymoon story.  He told them we were Americans (as if that wasn’t obvious).  Then he resorted to pressure.  He pointed out that we were guests at their sister hotel just down the street.  He mentioned Ayman’s name.  He told them I was a travel blogger.  I’m not sure what changed their mind, but Bill had to turn his room key or something like that over to them while we were poolside.

I will admit the pools were beautiful.  Deep navy tile with white trim.  We’re still not sure exactly what they were trying to protect when they wanted to prevent our visit.  We had some dinner, which was delicious, but then they gave us the run around on paying the tab.  We had to go to the front desk to pay and then the tip couldn’t be charged on the card.  Weird.

A Real Treat

Next Niece Mirette came to take us to the Sharm Cathedral.  An exterior view is above, but it does nothing to prepare you for the gorgeous interior.  I could wax eloquent about all the details, but I will let the cathedral speak for itself.  As amazing as the visit was from an architectural and religious standpoint, what was most apparent to me was the love the people of the cathedral have for my niece.  They opened up late in the evening just so they could show us.  Everyone onsite knew my niece.  They were obviously and ostentatiously fond of her.  I was so proud of her for this.  Enjoy the beautiful cathedral, then come back next week for our final day in Sharm.

 

 

 

 

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Midnight at the Oasis

TRAVEL THERE: CLIMB ON YOUR QUAD AND DRIVE

Imagine a sheik has invited you to his desert oasis for a banquet.  What would you expect?  What would you wear?  Well, let’s pretend my nephew Ayman is the sheik and I’ll tell you about our night under the stars.

Transportation

For this adventure we had a van, that took us to a place that rented quads to tourists.  Some of the girls wanted their own vehicle but I was content to climb up behind my hubby.  Off we went into the horizon.  In every direction it seemed there were miles and miles of sand, but straight ahead was a mountain and we headed towards it.

As we departed the rental facility, the mountain appeared no further away than the length of a football field, but as we took out across the sand, it seemed to back away from us.  At the same time, it got bigger and bigger and bigger.  The ride was a lot of fun, even if it was a little tame.  We had to line up and follow the leader.  Bill tried to jazz it up a little bit, but was admonished to get back in line and behave.  It was kind of like one of those trail rides where your horse plods along in a rut he’s trodded along for decades. You were imagining galloping along with the wind in your hair and all you got was dirt between your teeth.  On the quad you got wind in the hair alright, but you also got sand in every imaginable crevice.  Still it was fun.

The Oasis

Our destination was no oasis.  I didn’t even see a palm tree – merely a collection of tables in a nook below the mountain.  We were among the first guests to arrive.  We settled around what seemed like an advantageous table and let the evening unfold.  Service was, to say the least, slow.

While I wouldn’t say we were in a hurry, you really don’t want to leave these guys without any entertainment for very long – otherwise they will make it up.  Soon plastic cups and adult beverages came out of the bags some of the ladies had brought along.  As groups wandered in and began to fill the tables around us, our guys started providing some of that entertainment they are famous for coming up with.  Yes, that’s my husband waving the checkered scarf.

Just as night fell, the servers began to pass out platters of food.  It was, in fact, so dark that we had to guess at what we were eating.  While it was not the best food we had in Egypt, it was OK and no one got sick.  Then the entertainment began in earnest.  If you’ve been following this trip on my blog, you won’t be surprised to know there were belly dancers and sword dancers and belly dancers and fire dancers and belly dancers and native music and belly dancers and whirling dervishes.

The best part was the whirlers.  I’d seen quite a few of them by this time and pretty quickly you get down the shared repertoire.  However, these guys didn’t just whirl around on the stage and then go their merry way.  Oh no.  There was a rock ledge right behind the benches we were sitting on and suddenly we had a whirler doing his stuff right next to us.  Yes, it was pretty cool.

When the whirlers were done, the sword dancers came out and shortly thereafter it was time to drive back to the bus.  After our second quad trip, I felt grimy in places I didn’t even know were places.  We crawled onto the bus for the trip back to the hotel, but we couldn’t get into bed until we’d done something about the grime.  Sweet dreams until next week, when we’ll go yachting.

 

 

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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.

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The Best Day in Sharm

TRAVEL THERE: IT DOESN’T GET MUCH BETTER THAN THIS

Have you ever been worn out from having fun?  That’s how I felt on my third morning in Sharm.  I don’t consider myself a beach person.  I can’t just climb aboard a chaise lounge and soak in the sun.  It’s great for about 20 minutes and then I’m ready to move on.  I’d had visions of sitting on the beach dying of boredom, but so far there hadn’t been a chance for that to happen.  It wouldn’t happen on this day either.

All Aboard 

Pick up time was 9 AM Egyptian time.  We were going boating, but I had no idea exactly what that might mean.  To my delight, we boarded a yacht.  To my further delight it was a private yacht, so our family had the whole boat to ourselves.  I couldn’t imagine how much it must cost, but on this trip that was all between my nephew Ayman and my husband Bill.  I was just enjoying it all.

The scenery was gorgeous, which was a real treat, but the time with family was even more precious.  I see my husband’s relatives in fits and starts.  We spend a few days together and then go our separate ways.  The kids have to get used to me all over again every time and then about the time they think they like me, the visit is over.  By the time I see them again, they’ve forgotten who I am.  While the situation is not as pronounced with the adults, there is so much to catch up on that we never get very far past superficial conversations about current events in their lives.  This trip gave us enough time to get past all that and have really wonderful conversations about their lives.

Our boat skimmed smoothly through the sea.  I thought we were going to an island and had packed accordingly, but instead our destination was a popular diving/snorkeling site.   I had anticipated putting on my swimsuit and  strolling along the shore of the island – perhaps going even deeper in the water, but there was no way I was going to hop into the water when I couldn’t touch the bottom.  You see, I’m not a great swimmer.  There was a time I passed all the swimming and life-saving tests, but after a summer of teaching at the local pool, I quit spending so much time in the water. Bill’s family all love the water and they don’t understand, but they finally learned I’m not abstaining to get their attention and I’m very happy to observe them having fun.

In the water they went, like the near fishes they are and a good time was had by all.  Their time in the water seemed very short.  There was kicking and screaming, diving and splashing, and then they were done.

We motored away from the swimming spot and soon it was time for lunch and what a lunch – one of the best meals of the whole trip.  The trip back to dock was quieter than the first leg of the trip, but what a sweet time it was.  All of us gravitated to the bow section and sat together on cushions.  No one said much, but there wasn’t much that needed to be said.

Then suddenly everyone was up.  A school of dolphins had adopted us into their family.  It wasn’t just a short sighting, they traveled with us a long time.  Even the crew remarked on the amount of time the dolphins chose to race through the sea beside us.  Then the dock came into sight and we began to gather our things.  We disembarked and went back to the hotel.  But this was Egypt, so even though all of us were worn out from a day on the sea, plans were already being made for the evenings activities.  I’ll leave you with some photos of the return trip, but come back next week and enjoy the next events on our busy visit to Sharm.

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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!

 

 

 

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I’ll Take a Pool With My Suite

Ready for Water Sports

TRAVEL THERE: HONEYMOON LUXURY

Day Two in Sharm el Sheik was pool day, but we didn’t just wander out to the pool at the Marriott.  It was a nice pool with a waterfall and a swim-up bar, but something even better was waiting for us.  The honeymooners had invited us to their suite at The Baron Resort and it had its own pool.  The suite, not the resort.

Meet in the Lobby

Eleven thirty was the call time for Day Two.  I was up plenty early and hit the gym for an hour on their stationary bike.  Bill joined me for the usual breakfast buffet, which took a little longer than I realized it would.  For once I was not ready at the appointed time and Mr. Bill showed signs of anxiety.  I sent him to the lobby and told him to make sure no one left without me.  HA!  I’ve been spending time around these guys for a long time.  There was no way they were going to be ready to leave at the appointed time.  I mean really!  Did you read about the wedding reception?  I was in the lobby within five minutes of Bill’s frustrated departure from our room – just in time for an hour of waiting for our transportation to show up.  It was a good hour though.  I inspected the boat someone bought for my tiny grand-nephew at the mall the evening before.  I had some lovely time to visit with my older grand-nephews who caught me up with their high-school/college-focused lives.  I also had a great conversation with my niece Maggie.  So, I didn’t sweat the wait.

The Baron Hotel

When our vehicle arrived, we piled in and headed back in the direction of the airport.  Taking a turn, we went down a long drive with desert on both sides and eventually entered an area under development.  I say that loosely.  It looked as if someone had started a luxury condo/townhouse complex at some point and then changed their mind.  As we drove along seeing building after building after building of abandoned construction I thought of the abandoned corniche (boardwalk) and wished better for Egypt and Sharm el Sheik.  We passed so many empty buildings in the almost derelict construction sites that I became concerned we weren’t headed in the right direction, but finally The Baron was in sight.

As soon as we drove up we knew it had been worth the drive.  We followed our newlywed groom up the elevator and through the halls to what seemed like the back of beyond.  He opened the double doors on an amazing suite and then stood back to get our reaction.  There wasn’t one for awhile, because we were stunned!  And so let the fun begin!

It was a marvelous day made a little extra special by the taste of luxury – but the day wasn’t over!  Ayman had scheduled a Bedouin Dinner for our evening activity.  Come back next week and we’ll head out into the desert.

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