Friday, December 21, 2007

And we're off ............

Last week I mentioned that it was an anniversary of sorts of our cruise history - going back on the beautiful newly refurbished Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas - with today being 10 years to the day of our first cruise experience which was on this ship.

The bags are packed and everyone is excited. Should be great weather all weekend according to the reports so we are expecting smooth seas and blue skies. We know the grandkids will be excited seeing this ship. In fact, they will actually see the Carnival Fascination in Miami port which was the ship they went on last year with us - their first experience on a cruise.

I hope I can figure it out and if I can, I am actually going to post both the Welcome Aboard picture from 1997 and the Welcome Aboard picture from today when we get back on Monday.

Well have to do the last minute checks of things.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Christmas Cruise Poem

This was sent to me by a friend and since it was a cruise related poem, I could not resist sharing it here. My compliments to Alan Fox for his creativity. Can you figure out what ship(s) it refers to? Post your comments and there might even be a prize.

Happy Holidays to everyone

'Twas the night before Christmas, and far out at sea,
Our vessel was sailing, as smooth as could be

The stockings were hung from the balcony chairs
With hope that St. Nicholas would find them out there

The children were nestled all snug in their uppers
Having just settled down from a Christmas Eve supper

And ma and myself, we were covered in aloe
A bit too much sun, in a pool, warm and shallow

When up in the sky, there arose such a clatter
I leapt from my bed to see what was the matter

To the sliding glass door, I flew like a flash
Well, more like a saunter, and less like a dash

And what to my skeptical eyes should appear
But a great shiny sleigh, and eight flying reindeer

They circled our ship, from starboard to port
As the moon lit the driver, a jolly old sort

Who called to his team, in a happy retort
"Now Dasher, now Dancer," so on and so forth

We raced through our cabin and into the hall
To the very top deck, in time for us all

To be awed by the sight of Old Santa's sleigh
As he lightly touched down, by the midnight buffet

With a bundle of goodies thrown over his back
He rose in the air and dropped down the smokestack

Santa went straight to work, and later we learned
He found every child's cabin, from the bow to the stern

Insides and oceanviews, balconies and suites
Santa filled every stocking, with toys and with treats

Until all his deliveries had been handled with care
Then he noted he still had a minute to spare

So he surfed the wave rider, with nary a fall
While Dasher and Dancer scaled the rock-climbing wall

And Prancer, who had always been fond of the cold
Tried the ice-skating rink, a sight to behold

And then with a whistle, Santa summoned his team
And he bade us farewell, silent nights and sweet dreams

And I heard him exclaim, as he flew out of view
Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good cruise.

By Alan Fox, with appreciation and apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, author of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Happy Holidays

Things are a little quiet right now so no "hot" topic to comment on about cruising. Instead, let me wish everyone who might read this a very safe and joyous Holiday Season and prosperous New Year.

We are personally looking forward to next Friday for a special reunion (special for Helen and I anyway). On Dec 21, 1997, we went on our very first cruise (about 35 cruises ago ) on the Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas doing a Western Caribbean itinerary.

On Dec 21, 2007 - 10 years to the day - we are going back on her once again. We have been on her several other times, in fact twice in 2007 already but this is the "historic" date for us. Of course now it does an alternating 3 and 4 night cruise to Coco Cay (their private Bahama Island) and Nassau and Key West on the 4 night cruise.

The fun part of the trip this time is having a couple of the Grand Kids with us who live in New Mexico who will be visiting. Last year we took them on a Carnival ship for their first cruise and this year, not only will they be on a new ship (for them), but will actually see the other ship in port that day.

The Majesty of the Seas was refurbished earlier this year and she is very, very nice now and almost like brand new (bult in 1992). OK, the 122 sq ft rooms are still 122 sq ft but the ship is in great shape and a great short cruise experience.

When we went on her in '97, we never thought that 4 years later we would be a part of this industry as Personal Cruise Specialists and a few years later I would actually be handling the recruiting of new agents for our company. Do we love cruising? You bet - we are having the best time of our life now and have been for the past 6 years and hopefully for many more in the future.

Again, Happy Holidays and best of the New Year to everyone.


Monday, December 3, 2007

Would you give yourself an appendectomy?

There is an interesting commercial running on TV about a guy talking to a Dr. who is giving instructions for the guy to perform surgery on himself. The commercial is by a stock broker company and makes a good point in a humorous way. What are you trained to do?

This relates to the booking of travel also. With the cruise industry growing by leaps and bounds, new ships and destinations and choices for the consumer, booking cruises is much more than just booking one.

New online companies are popping up constantly and are charging monthly fees for people to become their own agent. "Book like a pro" one press release recently said. No training necessary. Lately the cruise lines have been taking a stand against these card mills, multi-level companies and other sites which appear to give the consumer the opportunity to become an agent and book themselves (for a fee).

Professional agents take their time and expense to learn not only about the different products out there but how to service the consumer, before, during, and after the booking is made. When situations arise after a booking is made what do you do? Who do you contact? How do you get it resolved? The cruise lines pay commissions to agents to be the consumers advocate and help the consumer before, during and after the process of booking and even sailing. And the consumer does not need to pay extra for this service beng provided to them.

Since the cruise line sets the price for their product and pay us, the professional agent, from that price they charge, you as the consumer actually get MORE for your money booking through an agent who is a trained professional than even booking direct with the cruise line. And we will not even go into group block space which may give you added value to your booking which you can not get directly from the cruise line.

So I ask you, "would you give yourself an appendectomy?" Don't be fooled! If it sounds too good to be know the rest.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

We just want to wish our clients, prospective clients, agent friends and anyone who might read this a very safe and Happy Thanksgiving Holiday.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to go on cruise vacations should also keep in mind that many can't for various reasons. So if you see someone who could use a smile today (or any day for that matter), be thankful that you just might be able to make someone's day better by saying hello and giving them a smile. They'll feel good and so will you.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cruise Lines Imposing a Fuel Surcharge

Did you know that cruise ships travel less than one-half mile on a gallon of fuel? And we think we have “pain at the pump!”

A typical 7-night cruise consumes between 50,000 to 70,000 gallons of fuel, if not more. With the rise in fuel costs and the unrest in the oil industry, the value of the dollar etc., the cruise lines have had no choice but to impose a fuel surcharge for sailings – both new bookings and for people already booked. The surcharge they have implemented covers about one-third of their rise in cost which they have been absorbing for many months now.

Although it will vary by cruise line, $5 per person per day ($35 per person for a 7 night cruise) seems to be the standard. This surcharge only applies to the 1st and 2nd passengers in the cabin - not the 3rd, 4th, or 5th. This charge is beyond our control as an agent so please don't shoot the messenger.

And, for most things we purchase that must be moved by rail, train, or air, prices have and will continue to rise. At least with a surcharge, it can be discontinued when fuel prices stabilize (at least we hope they will.) Even with this small additional cost, a cruise vacation is still the best value for a vacation.

"I'll play Bingo one less time and save that $20-30 to offset it" is what one client told me the other day. Now that's a plan.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Family Reunions and Cruising

Why might considering a cruise for your next family reunion be worthwhile? This was asked by a prospective new client over the weekend. My answer was simply "It's the best and only way I know to accommodate ALL members of a family!

Let's compare a cruise to a land based resort. Most resorts are either budget or luxury. Normally, it's the person (we call them the "pied piper" for the group) who is organizing and promoting this to the family members who chooses the place. They will most often choose something that fits their lifestyle - if they are used to luxury living, they will choose a luxury resort. Needless to say, they can afford that place (well, maybe or maybe they just want others to think they can) but not everyone in the family can afford it or is going to be comfortable in that type environment. The younger or less affluent don't want to say they can't afford so they spend more than they should (ego? or embarrassment not to go?).

If it's a pied piper who is younger, less affluent or used to more budget vacation, they will choose accordingly and then the older or those who are used to more luxury are not going (it would be beneath them to stay at the abc motel instead of a 4 Seasons for example).

So how do you find something that everyone can be comfortable with and can afford to attend? A cruise is the perfect solution! Every ship and cruise line (unless you choose the more luxury cruise lines) will have budget and luxury accommodations on the same ship. There are inexpensive interior cabins to Penthouse suites with butlers and private Jacuzzis to choose from and priced accordingly. Everyone can afford to go on the cruise.

There are so many things to do that there really is something for everyone of all ages. From the kids programs for the various age groups, trivia games, pools, spas, sports (two ships even have bowling alleys on them now), entertainment of all varieties, food from buffets or hot dogs/hamburgers to luxury gourmet dining. People can choose to eat together or not as they wish (most family reunions do try to have the dinner meal together in the main dining room (s).

For those with out the higher incomes, this dining is included in the price of a cruise so they can be comfortable eating things they may never have tried before - appetizers, cold soups, salads and many choices of entrees plus the wonderful desserts. (yum-yum, my downfall personally).

Then think about it. You go to a resort and it is one place the entire time. They have a great golf course but many in the family don't play golf for example (or you don't want them plying with you.) On a cruise, you can go to 3, 4,even 5 different places/islands during the 7 night cruise. Your hotel travels with you and you only unpack once. In each port there are many choices of things to do and again, there is something that is affordable or more exotic as one choices depending on their lifestyle. Play golf, go sightseeing by air, go to a beach, tour historical places, get a feel for another culture (definitely worthwhile for the younger folks), go shopping or guess what, even stay on board an read a book and relax.

Cruising is about choice and choices and yet, is affordable for everyone - young, old, rich or poor. The family gets together and everyone is comfortable and has a great time. So the next time you are going to be the pied piper for the family, think it trying this. Once you do, it will quite possibly become the families reunion vacation of choice.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Price vs Service and Value?

A situation that came up over the weekend with one of my fellow agents prompted me to write a letter and send to my District Sales Rep for that cruise line. I have xxxx'd out certain information contained in the letter that I feel is inapporpriate or confidential and does not dilute the thoughts as I sent them. However, I am also posting this here so that my thoughts and beliefs are public.

Yes, it may seem like agencies who discount are a benefit to the consumer but are they really? You'll have to answer that for yourself when planning your cruise vacation. I will stand by my thoughts and operating principles for my business.

Our clients come back to us year after year and send their friends to us because of the service we provide and the committment to our clients. With over 450 agents in our company, we are in the top 25 so we must be doing something right.

Good morning xxxxxx. I am writing this to you as our DSR in the hope that you can forward to where it may do some good. As a Professional Cruise Specialist for just shy of six years, as a xxxxx Agency, and also one who is a mentor to other agents to help them learn to be an effective and Professional Cruise Specialist with our company, a situation came to my attention over the weekend that is disturbing.

I have prided myself and my own business in the personal service provided to clients and prospective clients. My mission statement has always been to find clients the best value and experience when recommending any cruise for their vacation regardless of the commission benefit to myself. I have never recommended one cruise line over another if it was not the right fit for that person even if the commission was higher on the one over the other.

I have always felt that our job as a Cruise Specialist was to service the client for the cruise lines up to the client boarding the ship and then the cruise line’s job was to service them so they wanted to come back. It is “value and service” not “price” that is important and we, as agents, are deserving of the commissions paid to us for providing that service and the expertise/knowledge we take time to acquire. I DO NOT discount the prices set by any cruise line nor do I believe in discounting the cruise line pricing as I feel that number one, it cheapens the product, and number two, it lessons my value as a Professional Cruise Specialist. I do believe in always offering the client the best available “legitimate” price and will even lower their pricing without hesitation if a lower price becomes available for that client on that sailing they have booked.

Here is the situation that arose this weekend. Another agent of ours quoted a prospective client on the xxxxx sailing of 4/6/08 with the pricing available to Cruises Inc both in our system and also the pricing in your online system. The client was checking around and xxxxxxx was offering the sailing for the same pricing but then was giving a xxxxx discount (category xxx) on their website. At our commission level of xxxxx, the total commission on the booking would be xxxxx. I do not know what commission xxxxx is paid but if it is the same as Cruises Inc, then this represents approximately a 78% discount of your pricing or rebate of the commission paid to them. If they are paid a higher commission rate then we are where they can afford to do this, then my question is why? As a salesman, I do not subscribe to the theory that “something is better than nothing” when it comes to making a sale.

Needless to say, a discount of this magnitude is totally ridiculous in my opinion! If companies such as xxxxx are just going to give away the commission you pay them just to make the sale, why give it to them in the first place? We are supposedly a National Account with xxxxx but neither the company nor our agents can or should work for free or at a loss and still be able to stay in business. It is also, again in my opinion, making it seem like your product is overpriced to the consumer as to what we are quoting to them or we are trying to charge more than the product is really worth, either way, not good for our reputation or xxxxx Cruise Line reputation to the consumer.

My wife and I personally love sailing on xxxxx (we are Platinum xxxxx ourselves, and are currently booked on the xxxxxx with several of our clients, hopefully some more, on the 4/14/08 sailing) and always recommend xxxxx to many of our clients as a premium product even though we are paid a lower commission rate than we earn on your competitors. As I said, it is never about commission to us but what is right for that particular client. But, I also feel that with the service we provide, we earn what we are paid and working for free is not an option.

Many of your competitors have taken a stand with the problem of rebating or discounting that was happening a few years ago and now forbid it. They have also taken a stand recently against those companies and organizations that are really nothing more than card mills, multi level, or doing a disservice to the industry as a whole.

This has not only improved sales of those products by us and others but has put the service factor back into the equation for the consumer as being of prime importance. It makes our job as Cruise Specialists and a cruise line partner in providing this service and expertise something of value that we can build our businesses on and the cruise lines business on as well – service and value, not price!

With companies like xxxxx (and others) giving massive rebates and discounts advertised on their website since this is permissible by xxxxx and other brands, do we need to begin to focus on only recommending the cruise line partners who truly believe in a level playing field and do not permit this outrageous discounting? I hope not because I think that will be a major disservice to the consumer and would eliminate our recommendation of many great brands and product which would be the best choice for them.

In closing, I am just one little fish in this very big pond of the cruise industry. As an Independent Professional Cruise Specialist I will continue to do what I have always done and service my clients with caring and commitment to their best interest. But, I am also in this business to earn an income and a legitimate profit based on the terms that are set in so far as commission that is paid. Since I can not compete in an environment which is not going to provide that profit for my business where I can also provide the level of service that my reputation is known for and the associated costs of providing that service to my client, when the decision of cruise line A vs. cruise line B is equal as to value and experience for the client, I will have to recommend the cruise line partner that serves both sides.

I don’t know where this will go or what might happen going forward but I did want to share my thoughts and concerns and do hope that this can be looked at by those in the position to do something about it. I speak for myself only, not the company I am with but I also know there are other agents who feel the same way. I appreciate your taking the time to read and forward this to those at the executive level who I am sure will be interested in hearing one agent’s thoughts.


Al Richman

Monday, October 1, 2007

Re ms_lyonese question - sailing vessels

Hi ms_lyonese. First, thanks for visiting our blog.

I believe you are talking about Windstar, or Sea Dream etc when you ask about sailing vessels but not sure exactly what you question is. A cruise specialist can book clients on almost any ship anywhere.

Our rule though is only if the ships don't leak and the company is not in bankruptcy. We never will put a client in a situation where we know their trip could be in jeopardy later on.

Sailing vessels are unique trips and itineraries and of course the ships are more intimate as the passenger count is quite small. They can get to places that the "major" cruise lines can not due to ships size.

But again, not sure what the question was so I hope you see this post.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Booking Direct or Using a Cruise Specialist

A question that comes up often when I am talking with a prospective new client is "what is the advantage of booking with you instead of directly with the cruise line?"

My normal answer is "Me!" But, in reality there is a big difference and it is really in the customers best interest to use a Cruise Specialist against even a "full service"agency much less the cruise line directly.

To begin with, when you call a cruise line (customer or agent), they ask for a phone number. When this is entered into their booking engine, the computer system tells the reservation person whether the caller is an agent or not and the system generates rate codes that are applicable to the caller.
Retail customers do not always get access to all the rate codes or the lowest prices although they will get access to regional, senior, past passenger promotions etc.

There are two "environments" in the booking process - individual (known as FIT) and group blocks. When an agency contracts group space for a sailing, the number of cabins in selected categories can only be sold by that agency. When the agency contracts for the space, they also "lock in" the rate. Depending on the sailing and availability of cabins, the rates can go up or down in the FIT environment but the group rate was locked in. The earlier the space has been blocked, the lower the rate the agency has for their cabin inventory.

If the rates do go down, the agency has the option to lower the pricing of anyone already booked and to book new clients at the lower rate and if the FIT rates have gone up, that agency then has a price advantage or lower price for their clients then the cruise line or other agencies. The cruise line does not hold it's own space except in the FIT environment. The pricing all agencies get when making a new booking is the current pricing in the FIT environment if they are not holding any group space. It's the same as the cruise line pricing if you book direct.

However, the agent/agency is also your advocate, not the cruise lines, so that is an advantage right there over booking direct.

Another advantage of using a cruise specialist over the cruise line directly is this. Let's suppose you call cruise line A and you actually got a reservation agent who will take time to help you select a cruise. Normally, they only want to know "how many people, what ship, what date are you looking for, what type cabin do you want (and would you like fries with that? - OK, I added that ) The point is they only take orders like a waitress or waiter. When you call cruise line A, they only can help you with cruise line A, not B, or C, etc. even though they may own the other cruise line or be associated with them. That reservation agent knows nothing about the other lines nor do they have access to them. If you want to compare, you need to call them all.

A Cruise Specialist on the other hand, helps you determine the best cruise line and the best value for your individual situation each and every time and has access to all of them. Guess what! You are not paying any extra for this service since it is the same FIT pricing and therefore you are getting more value for your money because the agent is your advocate, not the cruise lines.

These are just a couple of reasons why booking with an agent is an advantage for the customer. And I use the term Cruise Specialist rather than travel agent because Cruise Specialists really do know more than most travel agents when it comes to the differences between cruise lines and how to find the best deals. And because the cruise specialist agency probably does more volume of business with the cruise ines and has access to more promotions (some exclusive) and all the best pricing the cruise lines have, they probably are holding more group space and can better assist the customer to make the best decision for the cruise. Full service agents who book everything all the time - well, you just can't be all things to all people all the time and be an expert in everything in my opinion.

So if you are looking to book a cruise, work with a cruise specialist. You'll be better off.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cruise Vacation and Boredom?

A question was asked by someone today that tells me there is still a big misconception about cruising. It related to an Alaska Cruise and the person was concerned about being "bored" while on the cruise. "Sure, there are plenty of things to see while in Alaska and great photo ops, but what about when on the ship?" was the comment.

When I hear boredom and cruising in the same sentence I really do shake my head in amazement. With the cruise ships that are being built today, they are incredible destinations in themselves even if they never stopped anywhere! With bowling alleys, ice skating rinks, in-line skating, rock climbing walls, sports courts (yes even shuffle board), movies, multiple lounges with a variety of entertainment, the main showroom with a different show every night - production numbers, comedians, acrobatics, magicians and who knows what, not to mention lounging by pools, hot tubs, libarary, card rooms and just quiet places to reflect and think. Did I forget all the activities the cruise director's staff have going on or the casino or bingo if you enjoy these things?

The person who thinks they will be bored on a cruise ship probably also thinks that a 0-0 baseball game going into the 9th inning is boring. The point is this. If you are a boring person and want to figure out how to be bored, then anything will be boring probably.

The beauty of a cruise is you have so many choices, it's really hard to decide what to do. There really is something for everyone; at any age. OK, the 6 - 18 months old are not included in that statement so why not leave the baby with the grandparent since babies don't know what is going on and the parents can't enjoy themselves because THAT is the same as being home - taking care of the kid - and others on the ship already know you have the cutest baby ever born and really don't care to hear babies crying. Sorry, I digress.

If nothing else, just the anticipation of the next port of call and visiting a new place is exciting. With about 150 different ships sailing all over the world, do you think the world is boring? So if you think you will bored on a cruise ship, think again or stay home and be bored by yourself and let the rest of us have a great time. After all, that is what a vacation is for anyway - doing different things, seeing different places, relaxing and meeting new people who just might become life-long friends. Even the crew members are fun to talk with and learn about their homelands.

Boring and cruising? Not a chance unless that is YOUR choice.


Friday, September 21, 2007

As I learn a little about "blogging", I realize that you can't post but can comment on my posting. But then I thought, people might want to ask questions so how do I do this?

Answer is simple (I think). All you have to do is send me an e-mail with your question and I'll put it on along with an answer for you. Then others might also be able to contribute information with their comments. You know, there are a lot of people that have a lot of information and I definitely don't claim to know everything. But I do have the resources to find things out and rather quickly most times. If you ask something I don't know, that is great! Because i'll get to learn something new also in finding out the correct answer.

So go to My Profile and you'll have the link to both my website and my e-mail address. I look forward to hearing from you.

Life is not a dress rehearsal so Go for It!


Thursday, September 20, 2007

My first blog

Well, the sun has risen off the east coast of Florida and I am actually catching up with something before it becomes obsolete- starting a blog.

So here goes - I absolutely love cruising!!! I used to say that to me the worse cruise I could be on still beats the best day at work! Except, now my work IS about cruising.

When the opportunity came about back in the later part of 2001, (on the advice of my own agents who told me I knew more than they did), I became a cruise specialist and had the opportunity to share my "limited" experience at that time with others. Limited in the fact that we had been on 9 cruises (in 4 years) at that time and never was involved in the travel industry.

Now, we (and the we part is my beautiful wife and full time partner in everything Helen) have been on over 30 and I also have the great privilege to be the Recruiting Mgr. of New Agents for the National Company I am associated with.

Helping others to enjoy the cruise experience the same as we have has been a pleasure and we have made many friends in all parts of the country with our clients and get to sail with many of them at different times.

And helping others to become a cruise specialist themselves, helping them to earn extra money for things they want and maybe mentoring them to a small degree so they have the same fun we do, is really a great and rare privilege.

This blog will be dedicated to both - whether you are looking to pick the right cruise to vacation on or pick the right company to be an agent for, I hope to share thoughts, ideas, and secrets you can benefit from.

As time permits or information of interest becomes known, I'll share with you things I learn, have learned, or will be learning. I hope this is worthwhile for all of us.