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

Embarking on Adventure

A Chilly Sail Away

TRAVEL HERE: EMBARKATION, LIFE BOAT DRILL & SAIL AWAY

Once we were aboard, the first thing we did was go to our room to drop off our stuff.  It was fine.  Plenty of storage, enough room not to trip over each other every moment and by some sort of miracle, more than enough hangers.  That hangers part was most amazing.  Then it was time to eat.

The Embarkation Buffet

Theoretically, this meal should be a showcase of all the good things to come.  This buffet gave us a preview of what to expect in the upcoming cruise – we just didn’t want to accept that reality.

Travel is a learning experience and I never learned about the embarkation buffet until I took the cruise with my bestie back in 2015.  She made sure we took advantage of the culinary offering and I was wowed.  Can you say seafood and lots of it?

The Embarkation Buffet on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas was just a mess.  Yes, we rolled in there at the last minute, but it looked as if no one on the staff had even looked at it for a few hours.  We wandered around and around and around looking but not finding anything that appealed to us.  We were hungry, no meal since breakfast, but it looked like they had just taken all the leftovers from the previous cruise and slapped them out on the buffet tables.  It was bad.

We picked up a few items that were the least bad of the bunch and tried to make a meal of it.  It was about 2:30 and the buffet was supposed to be over at 2:45.  Bill decided to go back for some bread and I went to check out the desserts.  We were too late.  Everything was gone.  At 2:35 Bill asked a member of the crew, “What time is the buffet over?”  The answer, “2:45.”  Obviously, not exactly.

Life Boat Drill & Sail Away

Next up was the Life Boat Drill and that was fairly painless.  Our SailPass Card had our location on it.  There was fantastic signage and helpful crew all the way along.  We stood on the deck a few minutes and then it was all over.  We wandered the boat a little, getting our bearings and then it was time for the Sail Away.

Bill loves the Sail Away.  Some of our favorite moments on cruises happen then.  Like when we sailed away from Budapest or Kauai or Miami.   This was not one of our favorites.

I’ve already mentioned how ugly Galveston’s port is and there is really nothing Royal Caribbean can do about that.  They really couldn’t help the weather either.  A little foggy and misty.  Lots of wind.  Sort of miserable actually, but we gave it a brave try.

However, they could do something about volume – as in the volume of the music.  Everywhere we went on deck was LOUD!  Someone needs to explain that louder is not better.  A poor singer is only made worse when you turn up the volume.  Bad weather does not disappear because you turn up the music.  This tendency to blast away everyone’s eardrums was not limited to the Sail Away.  It was one of my biggest complaints about the whole cruise.  If there was a microphone and a speaker, whatever was being amplified was too loud.

Perhaps we could have stood the weather if the music hadn’t been so loud or we could have put up with the loud music if the weather had been better, but we couldn’t tolerate both.

And then there was my glasses.  I was still traumatized from thinking I had lost my sunglasses in the embarkation madness.  Standing on deck fighting the wind as Bill looked over the railing, I decided to take a look at the day’s schedule to find a better place to enjoy the Sail Away, but first I needed my glasses.  I frantically started looking for them and soon I was telling Bill I had to go back to the room.  He asked what for and I said I needed my glasses.  As we stood there discussing it in less than pleasant tones, I realized my glasses were actually on my face.  You’ll notice I realized it, instead of the person who was looking at me.

That little crisis over, we headed inside for a better vantage point and found the Park Cafe.  I scored a Chocolate Chip Cookie and it was pretty good.  Bill got a cup of coffee and it wasn’t so good.  I had been trying to discover where one got one’s cup for the soda program since I got on board, but I wasn’t having much success.  The cup was supposed to be in our cabin, but just as I had run into on a past cruise – it wasn’t.  Finally, a female crew member, who was supposed to be selling the soda program, took pity on me and gave me one of the cups she had.  Finally, a little Diet Dr Pepper!

We eventually gave up on the Sail Away and then went to talk about wi-fi privileges.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Welcome to the Galveston Cruise Terminal

Not Galveston!

TRAVEL HERE: CLIMBING ABOARD OUR CRUISE

After all the difficulties Bill had faced trying to get out of town, our actual departure was fairly smooth.  We left within 15 minutes of our targeted ETD.  We miscalculated where the HOV lane would dump us, but even going out of our way in downtown Dallas, the traffic was so bad on I-30 we made time with our mistake.  About 11, we exited at a rest stop to use the facilities and change drivers.  By 2, we were at the cruise terminal, but so were a whole lot of other people.

Not Exactly a Tourist Destination

I want you to know that Galveston is a wonderful place to visit, but you wouldn’t know that from a picture of their port.  It is an industrial port with a couple of cruise ships thrown in for good measure.  What can I say?  It’s ugly!

We dropped our bag off at the terminal and made our way to the parking lot. (Yes, that was a singular bag!  I got everything in one suitcase!)  We’d saved $5 by booking online (Thank you, Sherry!)  We needed to be on board by 3:30 and I hadn’t been worried when we got to the terminal, but the parking lot made me nervous.  I don’t even think a hurricane would have lit a fire under these people, but we did make the deadline.

Going Through Security

I understand the need for security measures, but I hate it.  You’re passing around important documentation and taking valuable items out of your carry-on, not to mention dressing and undressing.  When I’m flying, I try to dress around the metal detectors, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t even think about going through a metal detector to get on board the cruise.  Maybe that’s why I had on a metal belt and shoes with metal decorations on them.  I took off the offending accessories and tried again.  That time my sunglasses set it off.

I went through all the rigmarole of getting dressed again and headed for check-in.  Suddenly, I needed my glasses and I couldn’t find them.  This would cause a panic in any situation, but if you read my blog last week, then you know why the disappearance of my glasses made me absolutely frantic.  I ran through the terminal back to the place where I re-dressed.  I made the people at the metal detector and x-ray machine prove my sunglasses weren’t there.  I felt tears brimming in my eyes.

I ran back to the pile I’d left next to Bill and started rifling through my backpack again.  Bill wasn’t happy.  At the moment he was more interested in checking in, but if I had lost my new prescription sunglasses, he was going to be even more unhappy.  Sitting in the floor, dumping everything out of the backpack I did find the glasses, but by then I was already suffering heart palpitations.  It would take me awhile to get back to normal and before that could happen, I would misplace another pair of glasses.

But enough about my glasses, lets go have lunch.

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

T-Minus 4 Days

TRAVEL HERE: BAD NEWS BEFORE THE CRUISE

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

A Workplace Hiccup Shakes Up Our Cruise

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

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

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

Then the Market Blew Up

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

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

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

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

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

What Else to Order Before You Board a Cruise

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

TRAVEL HERE: WI-FI, SHOWS AND MORE

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

Different Things to Order on Different Boats

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

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

WI-FI

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

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

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

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

Adult Beverage Packages

TRAVEL HERE: STEPPING UP FROM SODAS

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

Pay As You Go VS Drink Packages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beverage Packages on Cruises

TRAVEL HERE: WETTING YOUR WHISTLE

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

Let’s Start with What’s Free

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

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

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

Getting My Soda Fix

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

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

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

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

 

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

Personalizing Your Cruise’s Foodie Experience

Just one of many desserts

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

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

Dining Aboard a Cruise Ship

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

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

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

Specialty Dining

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Not So Cheap Cheapie Cruise

A Chilly Sail Away

TRAVEL HERE: EXTERIOR CABINS FROM $259

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

A Quick Google

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

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

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

Let the Nickel and Diming Begin!

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

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

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

What I Did

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

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

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

 

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Google, Book & Enjoy – or Not

Lifeboat Drill, Royal Caribbean

TRAVEL HERE: NO GUARANTEES

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

Now for some real life application!

Hit or Miss!

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

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

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

No Guarantees!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.