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

Welcome to Concierge Class

Celebrity Edge
Celebrity Edge

TRAVEL THERE: THE SECOND MOST EXCITING DAY OF MY CRUISE

I’ve already told you about the most exciting day of my cruise.  That’s when Jim and Melanie told me they had already booked their cabin.  It was because we hadn’t and staterooms were filling fast.  By the end of the day, we had our Deluxe Ocean View Staterooom 1B with Veranda #5578.  The second most exciting day was when they assigned me to Concierge Class.

Concierge Class

I may never know exactly what happened with Celebrity, but I’m guessing my upgrade to Concierge Class had more to do with CTC Travel than it did with my social media footprint.  One day I was going to have to pay $100 per person not to look through an over-sized porthole and the next I had a free upgrade to Concierge Class.  I tell everybody, all the time, DO NOT take a cruise without a travel agent.  Let my upgrade to Concierge Class stand as evidence of my reasons.

I’m going to tell you a little secret though.  It wasn’t that big of a deal.  The Celebrity brochure promised “from the moment your Concierge greets you for priority check-in” I would be in for a treat.  Only there was no Concierge to greet me and no one had any idea of where to go for my priority check-in.  That wasn’t really a big deal, because I had the Celebrity App, which actually was a big deal and check-in was such a breeze that it might have well as been priority check-in with a Concierge.

My only interaction with said Concierge was a telephone call I got from him each day, where he’d give me the weather report for the next day (often inaccurate) and tell me the HOUR, yes the one hour, that he would be available the next day.  It was never an hour that I would actually be available to talk to him.  I was hoping said Concierge would help us out with dinner reservations, because we had found it particularly difficult to book shore excursions together, since the Bagley’s  had booked with another travel agent.  My brochure had assured me my “own dedicated Concierge” would be just steps away.  HA!  He was over the river and through the woods from our room, if he actually existed at all.  We stood in line with everyone else to square away our dinner reservations and I’ll just say it didn’t go well.

Other Amenities

But there was supposed be even more treats to come – like a destination seminar. Never a word about that on board.  We were also supposed to “open our door to a beautiful array of fresh fruit and a chilled bottle of Blanc de Blancs.”  Yeah, that was an exaggeration, too.  The local Celebrity sales rep, who I’ve gotten to know through CTC, did send us some hors d’oeuvres, some flowers and a bottle of pinot noir.  CTC gifted us with some chocolate-covered strawberries.  But fruit from the Concierge? Nope.

We did get a bottle of champagne, but it was quite a challenge.  On the first day, I told our room steward to go ahead and deliver it, because we had a frig and I could keep it cold.  As it turned out, we got it on the last day, not chilled, to bring home in our suitcase.  Not exactly as advertised.

They also promised afternoon delicacies, which they did deliver every afternoon.  We’d come in after an all day shore excursion and voila, we’d have a four-sectioned, covered plate waiting for us.  In each section would be a tiny sample of something odd.  We could rarely tell exactly what it was, which was better than the days that we could.  For instance, one day there was a teeny tiny little shrimp tooth-picked to a piece of bread.  Only our covered plate was not on ice or refrigerated and we had no idea how long it had been sitting there.  I’ve had food poisoning from seafood – no thank you very much.  One thing I never need more of on a cruise is food.

There was a pillow menu, but the pillows on the bed suited me fine and I wasn’t going to chase down any others.  The promised Hansgrohe massaging shower head was quite nice, however.  No complaints there and I’m not even the showering sort.  There was also a Welcome Luncheon for Concierge Class passengers which kept us from rubbing elbows with the likes of those who were staying in the Deluxe Ocean View Staterooom 1B with Veranda I’d first been assigned to and it was quite nice, but I’ll save the details about that until embarkation.

I guess I’ve fussed a little about about the short-comings of Concierge Class, but before they write about it in the brochure, they ought to do a little fact-checking.  I loved my stateroom, but the not the mostly unavailable Concierge, his destination seminar, fresh fruit, chilled bottle and daily delicacies.  As it was, I’d gotten a free upgrade, so who was I to complain.

Getting upgraded to Concierge Class proved to be more exciting than actually being in Concierge Class, and that’s too bad.  However, we’re getting closer to our departure, so come back next week and let’s talk about the gown for my vow renewal.

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

It Wasn’t Their Fault

TRAVEL THERE: WHEN YOUR CRUISE LINE SAYS OOOOPS

I want to begin this post by saying I love Sandra Rubio and CTC Travel.  They have been more than good to me.  They get all my lavish dreams and help me balance them with my frugal husband’s concerns.  They have wonderful travel events.  They treat me like a star, even though my travel is small beans in comparison to some of their clients.  When I get all flustered and frustrated, Sandra is a rock.  I’m about to complain, but I want you to know I’m not complaining about Sandra or CTC.  In fact, they saved the cruise!

Obstructed View

I wasn’t exactly sure what Celebrity meant when I read “obstructed view” in an email from my travel agent.  I’m actually a pretty easy-going traveller.  Some people think obstructed view means that if you stand on your tiptoes and hold your head just right, then a tiny corner of the balcony above you can be seen.  That’s not me.

Then I saw they were talking about and they were 100% right.  I was going to have an obstructed view.  It was like a porthole view, not a veranda view.  I’d booked my cabin 18 months ahead and NOW, after I’d already booked my non-refundable air they were telling me about an obstructed view.

I’d booked the cabin especially, to be close to Eden, because I saw that as a sort of gathering spot for all of us who were traveling together.  Then when we booked the vow renewal ceremony, I’d requested for it to be in Eden for all kinds of reasons.  I was emotionally married to this Deluxe Ocean View State Room w/ Veranda 1B and now it was flawed!  You might say I was even a little hysterical.

I’m a reasonable person and while I wasn’t crazy about the fact that a mistake had been made, I was willing to get over myself and change cabins.  But guess what, after they had made the mistake of allowing me to book a deluxe veranda cabin, which was actually an obstructed view mess, they were ONLY going to charge me a $100 fee PER PERSON to transfer our reservation to another cabin.  Oh and if the cabin was in a higher category, then I’d have to pay for the upgrade also.  I could live with that, but $100 per person for their mistake was just a little more than I was ready to fork over.

My Little Russian Powder Keg

If I was a little hysterical, then you might also say my friend Viktoriya was Mount Vesuvius.  She wanted heads to roll.  To be honest, I kind of wanted a few heads to roll also, but I didn’t want those heads to be on the shoulders of anyone at CTC Travel.  I told Viktoriya to dial it way back.  I also told her the first thing we should do was pray, especially before we started lopping off heads.

What I most felt like doing was going somewhere to mourn, but if I didn’t do something and quickly, things would get ugly.  While I’m certainly not a travel celebrity, I have been travel blogging for a decade now.  I have thousands of followers on social media and hundreds of thousands of people see my Travel Advisor reviews.  In fact, I’m one of the Top Twenty reviewers in Dallas.  While Bill has tried to get a few upgrades with that information over the years, I do my best to downplay it.  I don’t want to be feel beholden to anyone and feel like I have to say anything nice, especially if I don’t feel there was anything nice to say.  I also don’t want anyone to think I’m just saying something nice because I was compensated for it.

For once, I was changing my policy.  It’s one thing to tell some housewife in Heath that she’s looking at the Mediterranean through a big circle.  It’s another to know that hundreds of thousands of people will hear how you ripped off someone celebrating their 25th Wedding Anniversary on your cruise ship.  I can tell you one thing, those hundreds of thousands Travel Advisor people might not have cared and maybe even my 2,000 some odd Twitter followers might not have either, but let me tell you, my 500 plus Facebook friends would care and they were going to hear all about it.

I wrote a very apologetic email to Sandra, but I did give her all my social media stats (including a copy of one of the emails Travel Advisor sends me regularly about my status in the Top Twenty) so she’d have some ammunition to use with Celebrity.  I assured her I didn’t blame her, but that I expected a different cabin and I wasn’t going to be paying $100 per person for it.  In fact, I suggested an upgrade was probably in order.

I’ve already told you that Sandra saved the day, but come back next week and find out what she did for us.

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

Trying to Pretend We’re Having Fun

Celebrity Edge Brochure
My Cruise Planning Bible

TRAVEL THERE:  PRESSURE COOKER PLANNING

With 18 months to plan our Anniversary Cruise on Celebrity’s new Edge, it would seem that everything should have been smooth sailing, but as I shared last week, almost from the day we booked to the day we left, life was just one big crisis after another.  So, what cruise planning did I manage.  I’ll tell you.

Plodding Through the Planning

In late August, I decided I absolutely had to start thinking about the cruise.  Deb was in her new house and even though Bill was all tied up remodeling our rent house, surely we could start thinking about the cruise. I got on the Celebrity Cruise Line website and started studying everything they had there about our dining choices and the shore excursions.  Excitement abounded while I looked at all the options, but Bill wasn’t as thrilled about it when I tried to share the news.  I understood why, but it still made me sad.

The next time I got around to thinking about the cruise was late September and the first thing I discovered was that much of the research I had done in August was null and void, because all the pricing had changed.  I emailed my travel agent, Sandra Rubio of CTC Travel.  She was glad to hear from me, because since we’d booked the cruise I’d been fairly invisible, but come to find out, the shore excursion pricing I’d been looking at was based on a special they’d been running.  Not much she could do about that.  The special was over.

Because we knew the cruise was going to cost so much, we’d already decided to keep a low travel profile for the year, but as I began to actually plan the cruise, I knew this event was going to take up more than two years of travel budget – more like 3 to 5 years – and all the while, we’re bleeding money on the house we were trying to sell.  Still, I had to start making some decisions.  If we were going to have a vow renewal ceremony, Sandra encouraged me to go ahead and book it.  I got over that hump in October.

The next hurdle was considering pre and post trip excursions, so we’d know when to book the air.  I planned the trip 14 ways.  I priced it out with the Celebrity pre and post trip excursions.  I even had Sandra price out DIY pre and post shore excursions.  After all that research, we finally decided to just do the cruise and splurge on the best short excursions during the trip.  I was ready to book our airfare on January 7th, exactly the number of days ahead all the travel bloggers say you are supposed to book international air.

“Obstructed Views”

We got air hundreds of dollars less than the cruise company was offering it and I had just started to relax.  Things were shaping up for our trip in spite of what was happening with the stupid real estate problem.  And that’s when I got an email from my Sandra with the words “obstructed views” in it.  It’s a darn good thing we’d booked non-refundable air, because had we not done that, just days before, chances are we would have cancelled the cruise.  It was just too much.  There had been too many complications about the cruise and in our lives.  Obstructed balconies made me want to stay home.

So what did we do?  Come back next week and I’ll let you know.

 

DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Then Life Happened

Just One of Many Surprises

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT HAPPENED WHEN I WAS OUT MAKING OTHER PLANS

When we booked our cabin for the Anniversary Cruise, eighteen months yawned between the booking and the going.  I was giddy with excitement, but I also knew a whole lot would be happening during that time.  Let’s look at some highlights.

Going About My Business

The first thing that captured my attention during the 18 months was my bestie’s move.  Deborah was downsizing.  I was spending Saturdays at her house, working towards staging the home by packing up the excess.  Then we got it on the market and it was quickly sold, but then we had to pack the rest of it and find her a place to live.

Along the way, Bill and I went to Club Med Punta Cana.  The blogs on that adventure start hereThen we bought a new car.  It hadn’t really been on our radar, but then my car starting acting up, so we got me a new one.  In early July, we’d had the car one, maybe two, days.  We were enjoying a glass of wine of our patio when a call came in from the tenant at one of our houses.  He was just letting us know he’d moved out.  MOVED OUT?  He’d just renewed the lease.

Life as I knew it ended that day!  “We’d better go over there,” I said.  I didn’t want to.  The house in question had once been my parents’ house.  A recent visit to it had made me reluctant to allow that renewal, but Bill said with the way the rental market was, it made the most sense.  If it had been bad with them in it, I was scared of what it would be like after they skipped their lease.

Even though it was late in the evening, we hopped in the new car and drove over there.  It was every bit as bad as I dreaded and actually quite a bit worse.  The picture shows me the next day trying to find the house under the debris the tenants had left.  If I told you all the details It would turn your stomach and I would just start crying again, so let’s just say the next few months of our lives were devoted to the disaster of getting the house ready to sell.

Bill taking aerials for our business.

An Overabundance of Real Estate

So, in 2018, we had an overabundance of real estate issues in our life.  Bill and I are co-owners of a real estate photography company, so we already have a preoccupation with real estate.  Then I helped my bestie through the sale of her home, her packing, her search for a new home and her move into it.  More Real Estate.  And as if that were not enough, now Bill was spending every minute he wasn’t out photographing houses acting as general contractor for the major overhaul we had to do on our investment property.  Yeah – we were sort of over the whole thing.

To say the remodel was a great trial would be a massive understatement.  I could go on for hours about how tough it was for my husband and by extension me, but I won’t.  We moved Deb in August and finally, come October, our investment property was ready to go on the market, but the bottom had completely fallen out of the market.  The week before, things were fine, maybe not hot, but fine.  The week we went on the market, things came to a screeching halt.

For the next four months, our life was devoted to selling the house.  We spent every weekend there holding open houses, bleeding money on staging, utilities and lawn services.  During this period we did go on a free trip to Cancun (read about that starting with this blog.)  It had to be free, because we were spending our money and time on the money pit that was supposed to be an investment.

Then we got an offer and thought our troubles were over.  We joyfully negotiated a contract, but a few weeks later we were back on the market.  The buyers were taking that whole Buyers Market thing way too serious and thought we’d do virtually anything to get the house sold.  We were desperate, but not that desperate.  The house went back on the market, but this time, we were soon back under contract.  That deal wasn’t much prettier, but at least they were more polite about it.  We lived through the contract and the deal was funded on April 24th.

The house closed just six weeks before the cruise and you would think joy would have sung out through all the land, but my husband and I were so beat up from the whole real estate debacle that we had a hard time celebrating.  I’d like to tell you things got better, but we had phones blow up, glasses break and leaks in our own house when it rained – the fates seemed stacked against us.

There were quick moments of excitement, but they didn’t last very long.  We were so stressed out, we even argued over the words we were going to use in our vows.  This was not the way I had envisioned things.  Come back next week and I’ll get back to the cruise.

 

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

A Year of Antiscipation

Cruise Buddies

TRAVEL THERE: I HAD MORE TO DO THAN WAIT

Excuse my sabbatical from blogging.  I came back from my cruise more than overwhelmed.  I came back, got to work and haven’t looked up since, until today.  Let the cruise blogging begin!

If you’re thinking of cruising, a shift has occurred in the last few years.  After of decades of saving the best deals for last, the cruise lines finally learned they’d been training their passengers to wait until the last minute to book their sailings.  So, a major shift has occurred.  The earlier you book, the better the deal – or at least that’s what they tell you.  Sure, there will always be last minute deals, but you might not like what you get.

I just checked.  To get a room in the same category I first booked, I wouldn’t save a penny if I’d waited until now.  The good news would be that I wouldn’t be spending anymore.  However, chances are, I wouldn’t have gotten the same room, but on a smaller cruise ship, there’s the chance I wouldn’t be going at all.  So what did I do with that 15 months I had before the cruise?  Well, I’ll share some it with you.

Come Cruise with Me

My first consideration in this had been to let our family members know what we were planning and invite them along.  I notified them months before we ever settled on a cruise line.  As we considered our options, we paid serious attention to which cruises would work best with the potentially interested family members.  All that was for naught.  In the end, not a single niece, nephew, sister or cousin joined us.  Once I knew which cruise we’d be on and that there’d be no group deal, I sent out an invitation to virtually ever one on our buddy list.  Several friends had talked a good game when the cruise was mere speculation, but when it came time to book a cabin, most wandered away, some without a word, some with ‘maybe later’ and a few with stated regrets.

In truth, I’d hoped for a heftier guest list.  This whole thing had come out of my desire to stand before our friends and family and renew our marriage vows.  Moving the ceremony from our backyard to the deck of a cruise ship had emptied the party chairs of all but the most faithful and oh, what faithful friends those were.  Let me introduce you to our crew.

The first to sign up, as I’ve already told you, were Jim and Melanie.  What delightful souls they are!  Had they not stepped up and bought their fare the moment we told them which ship, I might be telling you a different tale today.  I will be forever grateful for their encouragement that day.  As a Christian I’ve learned that God often speaks through circumstances.  The message that day was loud and clear.  Come on, book your cruise.  If Jim and Melanie are there, you don’t need anyone else.

But I knew there would be someone else coming along.  From the time I first mentioned the idea of a vow renewal, my bestie, Deb, had planned to be there – backyard, boat deck or the back of beyond.  Deb is always there for me.  When we announced our choice, she was in the middle of a huge life crisis, but life crisis be damned, Deb was going to be there.

And then there’s Viktoriya.  I’ve never had children of my own, but God has filled my life with wonderful people, who mean as much or more to me, as anyone who is actually a member of my family.  Viktoriya is one of those people.  She was literally a lost soul when we met in a class at UTD and I have observed her grow into an amazing woman.  She graciously gives me some credit for the journey she has made, but it has been God that made all the difference.

Then Life Happened 

When Bill first turned my attention away from a backyard ceremony to a cruise, I envisioned the fun we’d have, poring over the ship’s brochure, selecting our shore excursions and choosing our dining venues.  He’d even promised that would be part of the package if I’d do things his way.  Well then, life happened.  Come back next week and I will tell you about that.

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

If This is Wednesday, We’re in Monte Carlo

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

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

Horses Before Carts

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

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

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

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

That Was Then, This Is Now

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

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

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

The Next Adventure

TRAVEL THERE: BIG PLANS FOR A BIG DAY

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

Anniversaries We Have and Yet, Have Not, Celebrated

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

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

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

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

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

Looking to Twenty-Five

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

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

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

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