Friday, December 19, 2008

Travel Protection Update to the story earlier today

We did get word back that the folks did get on the 4:10 flight and are somewhere over the Atlantic as I write this heading to San Juan for their cruise. They will probably sleep very well this evening.

Does that mean they wasted the money for travel protection? Not at all. This time it did work out but for many, it doesn't. As I said earlier, it is "peace of mind" protection and without that flight, it would have been quite an out of pocket expense or complete cancellation and loss of the cost of the cruise.

A good friend of mine, a former client who is now an agent with our company (from Boston area)which is getting 7-11 inches of snow today, had e-mailed me this afternoon with a subject line:

The Only White I want for Christmas is the color on the side of my Cruise Ship

I would not tell him about our 80 degree temps today but told him to read my posting earlier today. He sent back this note:

Nicely done. The page looks great and the article is very timely to say the least. I like the picture of you and Helen with the captain. Only Al Richman could get the cap off of the captains head. I must say that I am one of your best students. For the January cruise I took the insurance and will show up 2 days ahead of time

Of course, if you have been on this BLOG before you noticed the picture of us that I finally put on it.

If you are reading this post and have no idea of what I am talking about, go back to the previous one. And if you wish to share a story about your situation once when it comes to having or not having travel protection, please put it in the comments.

Happy Holidays to all and we wish only for you to have an adventurous 2009.

Al & Helen

Travel Protection - Is it worth the money?

This is an "optional" purchase offered along with one's cruise plans. 1/3 or more travelors opt NOT to get the travel protection offered when booking a cruise (I have no idea of the stats for other travel.) But is this protection worth it? I believe it is.

Not because we, as agents, make some additional commission, but for peace of mind! We learned this lesson the hard way years ago before becoming agents. It cost me over $3400 to learn this lesson but that is a different story. Today's is current.

We have a client going on a 10 day S. Caribbean cruise departing from San Juan today. I received a call yesterday that they were worried because of a major snowstorm coming into Detroit this morning and would the flight get out in time to catch the connection in Miami. Well, the plane boarded passengers and then deboarded them. They reboarded an hour or so later, left the gate and then returned (mechanical problem). They finally left Detroit about 4 hours late.

Needless to say, they missed the connection and the only two flights to get them to San Juan in time to catch the ship today are full (we're hoping stand by works for them as people connecting from other flights may be delayed more depending on where they are coming from - mean but my clients get my priority!)

We can not even help them get to the first port of call tomorrow (flights and time schedule) and the 2nd best scenario is to get them to the ship on Sunday. This means hotels two nights in San Juan (if they get the flight that is too late for the ship), purchasing a ticket from San Juan to St. Marten, meals, etc., and will the luggage actually catch up to them? Not to even mention lost time on the cruise if they get there at all.

Without travel protection, one is "out the monies" spent. Fortunately, these folks listened to me and purchased when they booked about 4-5 months ago. All costs will be reimbursed (estimate with the flight to St. Marten) about $650-900 or so plus the 2 lost days of the cruise! And if they don't ever get to the cruise - $2700 they paid for the booking. cost of their travel protection is $198 total.

Right now, they are at the Miami airport getting on the stand by list for the 2:30 flight or the 4:10 flight. With luck, they will be on one of those flights, get to San Juan, get on the ship, and begin their long awaited vacation.

Whether they make it to the ship today is still unknown. But the "peace of mind" protection - that's what I call travel protection - is definitely worth the small amount paid, even if they get to the ship and enjoy the entire cruise and do not have to file a claim.

Think about it the next time you book a cruise. Of course, whenever possible get to your embarkation destination a day early to be even safer. Especially in the winter when coming from up north.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Town Hall Meeting - Lessons Learned

Last week we conducted out first or "inaugrual" live online Town Hall gathering and in short, it was interesting! We only had 3 people attend (well 6 or 7 but from 3 locations). That turned out to be a good thing.

Why a good thing? The reason was some technical difficulties. Plan 1 was a toll free teleconference setup. This was fine except they gave me the wrong "host" code to open phone lines. Actually was a typo but didn't know this until the next day.

Not to worry - we went to Plan 2 - and attached my microphone to the new computer (that's another whole story) but something was not right and no audio.

Fortunately, at 7:58 there were only 2 attendees so I was simply going to use 3-way calling to plug both in and now a 3rd name showed up on the attendee list. Well, I could only connect 2! On to plan 4. As there is a "chat" module in this technology I asked "does anyone have 3-way calling?" One lady thought she did so I asked "Mike or Richard, do you mind if I give Wendy your phone number?" Richard said that's fine so I called Wendy, she connected Richard from her phone, I connected Mike and we began only about 7 minutes late. If there were more folks, then it might have been a real "daisy chain" to pull this real.

The folks had a good time looking at the pictures we took of the Solstice, Splendor, and Ruby Princess and especially the "behind the scenes" look at how we research price and availability for clients. They had several good questions and closed the session.

Lessons learned - 1) always have a plan but also have a back up plan. 2) Check equipment ahead of time. 3) Never panic as there is always a solution to a situation (I prefer that word over problem). I know these 3 things and only forgot the 2nd one. Next month will be better.

I do want to share these comments from Wendy:

Al & Helen:

I truly enjoyed your webinar this evening. The pictures of the new ships were beautiful. I found it very exciting to see pictures of Carnival’s new ship as I will be sailing in just a few days.
The tour of your website was very informative.
I can certainly see the price advantage of booking through you rather than try to sift through all of the information myself on the internet. I was especially interested in the “blocked cabin” rates that you are able to sell at a deeply discounted rate.

Since you gave me onboard credit for my next cruise, I will have to book again in the near future.

Thanks for all you do.


We always have surprises and the 3 who did take time to attend each received on board credit for their next cruise. What will we do next month? I guess you just have to show up to find out. Check our website for details.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

At least Crystal did read the posting

OK Crystal, I do remember you saying that about the pricing. I believe we are in St. Thomas in Jan so will stop by and say hello to you and Farrah. Still not buying that piece but we will visit it .

For everyone else, remember, you must contact us to get the info for Wed night's live cruise night on your computer. E-mail to for the invitation to attend.

This S Caribbean cruise has been very pleasent and we did get an invitation to tour the bridge with the Capt. this morning. We do have an interesting picture with Helen in the "driver's seat" of the Caribbean Princess. I guess we are still heading to San Juan - just kidding.;

Friday, December 5, 2008

Upcoming "live" cruise night at your home

(Hi from Aruba today.) On Dec 10th we will conduct our first internet cruise night. As I mentioned last time, this will feature 3 new ships and a behind the scenes look at our technology to help you find the best pricing and availability for your cruise.

We will be broadcasting "live" from our office right into your computer at home (guess what - you don't even have to wear shoes for this event) at 8 PM ET on Wednesday December 10th.

To get the information you need to join the event (website meeting link, passcode to enter the room and the tol free teleconference number, just e-mail me at As this is the first one, and an experiment if you will, we only have space purchased for 50 guests (and I will use two spots for my computers) so first come, first served with the info.

We promise you will have a good time, a few laughs and see some very interesting things. There will be a surprise or two for those attending. No, I will not tell you now - I said surprise!

We will also be drawing the November monthly contest winner for on board credit for their cruise. We hope to see you there.

Crystal and Farrah, I would love to hear from you and know that you did read about yourselves on this BLOG as a promised I would give you and your store a "plug." Thanks again for your hospitality.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We always say St Thomas is great for shopping

It's hard to believe but we are back on a cruise ship again. After the Splendor, we were on the beautiful and luxurious Celebrity Solstice for a couple of days last weekend and this past Sun, flew to San Juan for a S Caribbean cruise on the Caribbean Princess (our 3rd time on this girl).

Yesterday we were in St. Thomas and we had one "mission" to find a particular item but the store did not have it unfortunately. But we walked around and visited several shops. Lo and behold - in Cardou Jewelers, we found something for Helen we have been looking for for a very long time - earring jackets! We have checked stores in the US, we have checked stores in every island we have gone to and even in Europe to no avail.

When we asked (out of habit more than anything else) if they even knew what they were, the lady directed us to a counter and there they had some. It almost didn't matter the cost - it was mission accomplished finally. (They weren't that bad either especially with a little extra discount she gave us.)

We also saw something very interesting in a little store called Minor's Gems on a side street. They had a life sized figure in the doorway that talked to you as you walked by. Quite a surprise to really this thing wasn't human. The two gals who work there (Crystal and Ferrah) were so friendly we chatted with them for a few moments and when they mentioned they had glacier jewelery, I went through my digital camera to find the picture we took of a piece of iceberg (abut 400 pound piece) brought onto the ship when we were in Alaska back in Sept.

It turns out that this outfit has stores in Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway and they have some really nice and unique items. Crystal showed Helen a bracelet and had it put it on. It was nice, very, very nice and only $35,000! Not today Crystal!

We did find something for a niece for the holidays and it really was a bargain and they do have many such items in this little store and probably many more in Alaska. We will be sure to mention this shop to those coming to St. Thomas or Alaska in the future.

I can't do it now but will definitely try to upload the picture of these two warm and friendly girls and their "miner" doorman when we get back. Thanks again Crystal and Ferrah for your hospitality.
In a couple of days, I will post information on a special live online webinar we have scheduled for Dec 10th where we will be previewing the Carnival Splendor, the Celebrity Solstice, the Ruby Princess and a special behind the scenes look at how we research cruises and find the best pricing for our clients. Stay tuned for that as there will be limited space for this broadcast that will come right to your computer from our office and I'll tell you how to get the login information needed for both the computer and toll free teleconference number.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Customs and Immigration and Radiation

When disembarking the new Carnival Splendor yesterday, we had a very interesting experience. When we were giving in our customs declaration, another agent came over and asked us to step to the side.

As we had purchased nothing during this little 2 night cruise, I thought it was because I had "zero" on the form for purchases and they were checking this out. But that was not it.

The agent asked me if I recently had anything involving radiation? I mentioned that I had taken my Dad to the Dr. the other day and he had some x-rays and one of them was nuclear but not me. He showed me a little gadget on his belt that was glowing red. This gadget was actually a radiation detector and it was going off big time!

Well it actually turned out to be Helen who had a neclear stress test 5 days earlier and the stuff they inject for this test is radioactive which was still in her system and sending radiation signals out.

The man explained, and we are sharing it here, that anytime someone has anything done that involves radiation they should carry something to that effect - the paperwork from the testing lab is sufficient. He never did say how long that stuff stays in one's system. He went on to explain that without this someone could be "inconvienenced - his word" when coming back into the country especially for land border crossing, from a longer cruise or coming from many other countries (we only went to Nassau) or if security levels were higher. He was fine once he knew why his detector went off and we were on our way but it sure was an interesting experience and valuable information to pass along.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

E-docs and paper docs charge

I received an interesting e-mail this morning from someone who is not a client presently (maybe one day they will be) with a unique question. Here is the question and my reply:

Is it true that Royal Caribbean is only going to issue E docs and if you want the booklet, then you will be charged $35?

Good morning. Interesting question you ask. To the best of my knowledge, although things can change rapidly of late, Royal is using e-docs primarily as most of the cruise lines are and there is a charge (mostly $35) for “paper docs” depending on where they are sent to. But this charge is to agency, not customer (unless agency passes the charge along which many probably would and do – is that where your question comes from?).

With that being said, we actually have the materials for printing out the e-docs for our clients along with the luggage tags and creating the package to send out which is basically “paper docs” for Royal, Celebrity and Azamara. We will also print out the-docs for other lines for our clients if they request us to (we help many clients with their pre-cruise registration and mail the boarding pass to them when we do), especially those without computers or non seasoned cruisers. We of our own choosing do not charge any processing or shipping costs to our clients when we do this and in fact to not charge and processing fees period even if we don’t.

To go a step further, some cruise lines such as Princess and NCL have a pre-cruise package which they send out which includes the excursion booklet and luggage tags. We as agents have the option of having these go straight to client or coming to us first. We choose to have them come to us and then we send out with additional material in the package.

The main thing needed when getting to a port is the boarding pass that you print out once doing the pre-cruise online registration which is required and preferred way of getting the necessary information for the manifest the cruise lines must submit prior to setting sail. This all has to do with APIS – Advanced Passenger Information System and part of the security necessary to insure safe travel. Carnival calls it “Fun Pass”, Royal “Sign and Sail”, Celebrity “Xpress Boarding Pass” etc.

The pre-cruise online registration basically gives the cruise line the information ahead of time so that the check-in process for passengers is much smoother, simpler, and quicker since the agent there does not have to enter all the information in the computer for each person. They merely have to check ID, imprint credit card for on board account, and give you your ship ID card.

I imagine that I took this a little further than your question but I hope it does give you what you wanted to know. I do not recognize your name and do not see it in our data base so not sure how you came to e-mail me but not a problem, I’m glad to help. In fact, that was a good question and I’m actually going to post the question and my reply on my BLOG this morning. Thanks.

And if we can be of any help in planning future cruise vacations, if you are not happy with your agent presently, do not hesitate to contact us.

I also posted something else earlier today about fuel supplements so go past this post to the previous one. Yes, have been away for awhile both for traveling and personal reasons. We have some more traveling to do over the next few weeks as we sail on some new ships and to some new destinations in the S. Caribbean. More on these things later.


Fuel Supplement Update

Well, the good news is that Royal Caribbean and NCL (and their other brands) have now also come up with formulas to return fuel supplements for 2008 and 2009 sailings based on a formula tied to the NY Mercantile Exchange price on a specific date prior to each quarter. They are not adding a fuel supplement for bookings in 2010.

The benchmark is $65 so when under that at the date they predetermined, they will give an on board credit equal to what passengers paid for cruises during the following quarter.

OK - let's make this simple. For 2008 and 2009 sailings, you pay the fuel supplement and maybe have a surprise once on the ship of an on board credit you did not expect. Of course, depending on the cost of fuel, this could all change again.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cruises and fuel supplements

Back in August I asked the question (or posed the question) as to which cruise line would be the first to look at the fuel supplements they were charging since the price of crude has been steadily declining. We now have the answer. It's the Carnival Corp Brands - Carnival, Princess, Holland America Line, Cunard, Costa & Seabourne.

Beginning October 31st, fuel supplements will be eliminated for new 2010 bookings on the brands. Don't get to excited though. Prices will also be going up on 2010 sailings. But at least, fuel will not be a separate "line item" that both agents and consumers have to deal with.

For 2008 and 2009 sailings, there may also be an adjustment to the fuel supplement but this is going to be tied to the market price before the cruise departs.

This is from the Carnival Press Release:

"For 2008 and 2009 departures, if the price of light sweet crude oil according to the New York Mercantile Exchange Index is $70 per barrel or less at the 2:30 p.m. close of business as reported by Reuters on each of the 25 consecutive trading days ending five trading days prior to the guest’s cruise departure date, the fuel supplement will be refunded in the form of a shipboard credit. Guests who book a 2010 cruise prior to Oct. 31, 2008, will be charged the current fuel supplement but will also be eligible for a refund in accordance with the same fuel price conditions being implemented for 2008 and 2009 departures."

So is there a fuel supplement? Yes, but when you do go on the cruise, maybe not. I trust the cruise lines to figure this out and as an agent, no, I'm not going to follow this fuel index every day. Sure, I keep up with news and events and I guess I will sort of know where the prices are and for everyone, I hope they continue to come down and stay down (even after the election) but I can't chart every cruise departure date, for every cruise line.

But kudos to the Carnival Corp for taking an honest look at these supplements and at least making an attemp to eliminate them, especially in these trying times. So when will the others follow suit? Time will tell.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Times are tough - why a cruise vacation might be good

The housing market is a wreck, the financial markets are in a freefall (is the bottom near?), people are stressed out about their jobs and a vacation is probably the last thing on your mind. So why think about a cruise vacation now?

Maybe because we all need a time to relax and rejuvenate and what better way than a nice cruise which includes food, entertainment, activities or time to just "get away from it all" and read a good book while out on the high seas.

October is National Cruise Vacation Month and there are many specials and promotions coming up shortly in conjunction with CLIA's World's Largest Cruise Night on October 16th. We are featuring 5 different short cruise line video previews daily on our special webpage set up just for you

and the videos will change every other day for the remainder of October. A total of 21 cruise lines are being previewed. And the best part - FOR YOU - the promotions involve discounts, upgrades, reduced deposit amounts and/or on board credit. The "booking windows" vary but you will get to take advantage of these promotions between Oct 15th and 17th for sure and many will run through October and some even into November. Some of these promos are for select sailings or destinations, but many are simply for any ship in a specified date range well into 2009.

Here's another thought. Times are tough but the cruise lines still need to fill their ships and with the abundance of cruise ships that will be back sailing in the Caribbean this winter, prices are extremely attractive for you. If you live up north, you know a few days on the beach in Jan, Feb, Mar is an ideal plan and loking forward to that can help you through these troubled days.

Another thing to consider is book a lower type category (ocean view instead of balcony) or even an interior cabin which is lower priced. The point is give up a little something to do something that will allow you the chance to relax and enjoy for a week. That's good value in these tough times.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back to work

It has taken a few days to catch up once the trip was over and get back to a normal (what is normal?) routine. Besides taking care of client issues and situations, it was also planning some of the new things we are working on for our clients and prospective clients.

One of the things to do was to go through all the entries of names that were submitted for our "Name the Newsletter" contest. We had some very creative names submitted and it did take a couple of days to choose the "short list" for the final voting by everyone.

(To see the list if you are not on our e-mail distribution list click on the link below to our website page

We sent out the list of names to vote on at 11:30 PM and had over 15 replies by 7 in the morning. As of today, it looks like 4 names are the favorites and are in a close race. Voting continues until next Sunday October 5th. It is also interesting to read some of the comments submitted with the votes.

We will be scheduling our first "online broadcast" and will be featuring Alaska within a few days by showing a beautiful short documentary entitled "Heart of Alaska". This film recently won the "Best Cinematography" award at the NY Film Festival. We will also show some of our pictures taken during the trip. We will have a "door prize" for people attending the broadcast as we have two copies of the DVD to give away. Again, our e-mail distribution list will get advance notice to reserve space for this show.

We did try to find a monument to Benny Benson but was not sucessful in this quest. I figured Juneau would be the best place since it is the State Capital, but the weather was so nasty the day we were there we just went back to the ship after the Salmon Bake.

We are also working on details for a new promotion which we will be announcing either in the first edition of the new newsletter or at the online broadcast (well both but not sure which will be first yet).

I will be writing some comments on a tragic situation that happened in Belize regarding a lady who drowned on a cruise line offerred excursion just recently.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The cruise is almost over

Yesterday we spent mostly in meetings as it was a day at sea and we really are here on this wonderful trip working. Last night was our awards ceremony and it was nice to have moved up to a new award level thanks to all our wonderful and loyal customers.

As you may or may not know, I did spend almost 3 years recruiting new agents for our company and it was a thrill to see so many of my "children" win awards this year and one even was Rookie of the Year.

We had a special invitation to take a private tour backstage of the main theater yesterday and boy did I learn to have even more respect for the singers and dancers of the production numbers. I thought they had much more space to change costumes and was absolutely blown away with the small area back there for them. Not only do they need to learn all the routines we passengers see, but they have to coreograph even move involved in changing costumes. If someone is in the wrong place, it can have a major domino effect on the next routine.

One of the dancers said that it doesn't take long to get over being shy and that is all I will say about that .

Today we were taken to Buchart Gardens in beautiful Victoria BC. These gardens are a historic site of over 100 years and learned the story of how Jenny Buchart created this magnificent gardens back in 1902. (I will put this info into another forum - probably our newsletter.) We did take many pictures but they will just not do it justice as you need to really see the panoramic beauty of this place. We have recommended this to clients for years even though this is our first time here. What we thought we knew is only 10% of what we saw. The gardens are absolutely amazing!

It's our last night on the Celebrity Mercury and that is always a sad time. Not just that we get "evicted" from the ship in the morning but we have many agent friends that we get to spend time with once a year at our annual conference. The training and education is great but the comaraderie we have is priceless.

I hope you have enjoyed following along with us on this Alaskan adventure and I will apologize as I'm sure I'll read back though all these and realized how much I did not cover. But, if you hve never been to Alaska, think about it! It just might be one of your greatest experiences of you lifetime.

Post some comments and let me know if you enjoyed this trip. Thanks.



Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sitka yesterday, at sea today

Unfortunately, it was another damp and drizzly day yesterday in Sitka but we did manage to go into the town for a little while. Sitka is situated along some beautiful mountains and there are many little islands scattered around. On many of them we could see one house and not sure if there were others. The is a strong Russian influence in this town as it was part of Russia and their main area outside of their own country before selling to US. Interesting story about that transaction and maybe we'll get to send something out about it in a future e-mail.

The town is quaint and one of the stores we saw was an old Ben Franklin five and dime (not 5 and 10 cents anymore though). We hadn't seen one of these for years. There were many shops with local artisan creations and just walking into them is like going into museums.

Had to "suffer" through another cocktail party last night which was a theme night by the company - "where in the world are you?" Agents dressed up representing different areas of the world (some did but many did not) and some were very creative as always. I was asked to be on the panel as a judge (briberies were excepted ) but the 3 of us did a fair job of selecting winners in the different categories.

Today we are sailing on the Pacific side of the mountains as we head to Victoria BC. Meetings all day today and our awards ceremony tonight. Tomorrow we will be going to Beuchart Gardens in the afternoon and hopefully weather will be cooperative.

Not much else to report today. I may post from the ship tomorrow or when in airport on Mon as we wait for our flight home.

As a reminder, only a few days left to enter our "Name the Newsletter " contest before we select the names submitted to vote on. We'll also be scheduling our online braodcast about Alaska sometime later in the week and will be able to show some of the pictures we have taken.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hubbard yesterday, Juneau today

What an incredible day yesterday at Hubbard Glacier! Although cloudy, the fog lifted about the time we got close to the glacier so we had some excellent views. Hubbard is one of the largest glaciers in the world as it is 6 miles wide and goes about 1000 ft into the sea reaching bottom.

Getting to Hubbard we also pass Turner Glacier which is close by so really two for the price of one. The glacier did some calving and it is something to behold. It sounds like thunder as the ice cracks and then breaks off crashing into the water. I did manage to capture one picture as the ice was coming down and will put on here when I get back next week.

We also were treated to a very unigue thing. The Captain lowered a life boat into the water to take pictures of people on the decks (for the video the ship sells) but also had them get a piece of glacial ice and bring on board so people could take pictures with the ice. The piece was estimated at 400 pounds and they brought to the aft pool area for display.

This captain tried this a couple of cruises back for the first time and it was so well received by those passengers, when he can safely lower a boat he now does this. only one that I know off pulling this off. Again, I have pictures of the ice in the netting used to haul it up.

Today (Thu) we are in Juneau. We went to a Salmon Brunch today close to town but in a wooded area. There is a beautiful waterfall on the side of the mountain. We had eggs, salmon, reindeer sausage, potatoes, bisquits, coffee, apple cider and could toast marshmellows on an open fire. There is also a bear family living in the woods and the baby did come out for a few moments. Unfortunately, we were looking at the waterfall at the time so did not see ourselves but many did who happened to be in the right place in the park area.

That's the thing with the wildlife - they roam free so one nevers knows where or when something will get spotted. There were whales following the ship the other day in the Inside Passage, but like I always say "No matter which side your cabin is on they will be on the other."
We actually were in meetings at the time.

Spent the afternoon resting as I was fighting a little cold from the mist yesterday and it was cold and damp here today. I never did get to look for any monument to Benny Benson. There is something near the statge house I was told.

We are getting ready to set sail shortly and tomorrow we go to Sitka. Never having been there before, we are looking forward to this port we've heard much about - it is supposed to be very Russain influence in architecture and more.

The food has been great the entire trip and we have not heard any complaints (I'm sure there ares since food is such a subjective thing anyway. Then again, some cruise line sponsers a cocktail party for us every night so............................................

Reminder - if you are not on our e-mail list, you will not know when we will be scheduling our online braodcast about AK. Just e-mail to with your name and ask to be added. Many things will go out periodically of interest to you - special cruise sales, and notices of other things happening.
Always exclusive to the list or advance notice of things posted on our website.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ketchikan and soon Hubbard Glacier

Had a connection problem but finally got that fixed. Yesterday we spent the morning in Ketchikan and had a tour to Totem Bight State Park. I thought we were going to Saxman Indian Village so we were pleasently surprized to go somewhere different.

This is a special totem pole state park honoring the several different Native American tribes in the area. Learning about totem poles (which are not religious) and how they tell stories that get passed on generation to generation is very interesting. These are all re-creations of poles created years earlier but they never move them once they are set in place. They also have a "Clan House" which was really the winter home for a clan and also a place for special commerative events such as a wedding.

We also had a chance to ride around Ketchikan and were able to see the salmon spawing in the creek. Amazing!!!!! However, it's a tough life for a salmon - trael all that way back, "spawn" and die. Oh well, I guess they go out with a smile (sorry could not resist that).

The food on the ship has been very good and probably the best we have had on a Celebrity ship. We have always heard how good the food was but our previous experiences - oh well - but now we are impressed. Service also is very good.

This morning we again spent in training sessions with several cruise line partners and learned more about their product, expecially river cruising. I will have to arrange for one of the online broadcasts we will be doing to feature this type of cruising.

This afternoon we will be heading to Hubbard Glacier, one of the largest glaciers in the world. Over 6 miles wide and growing. Hopefully we will see it calve (if you don't know what this means, it means a large chunk of ice breakking off and falling into the sea.) and I will capture a picture of it doing so.

The seas did get rough last night since we are actually in the Pacific Ocean waters now. A little "motion in the ocean" is always fun (except for some I guess) but I don't know of any in our group that had a problem.

Closing this segment for now as Helen and I are meeting with our Sr. VP for lunch.

Monday, September 15, 2008

From the Ship in AK

It's Monday and we are somewhere along the inside passage. Alaska is all about the scenery but guess what. It was so foggy this morning, we could not see the shoreline. See, it even happens to us professionals.

Sailaway out of Vancouver was great. The sun was shining and the temps were pretty mild. We did have some great scenery heading out and I hope some of the pictures come out OK. We actually saw an Otter (they are so cute) while in the Port of Vancouver.

Spent most of today in meetings (it is a working trip) and got some great info. We'll share some at the online braodcast coming up in a few weeks.

Can't tell you about the food because Celebrity sponsored the party last night and put out such a spread for us, no one was hungrey afterward. We will be in the dining room tonight so will find out how it goes and post tomorrow. The buffet for lunch both yesterday and today was very nice. Pizza just so so but I'll give them another chance.

The ship is very nice although we do notice some little things that could be worked on and will mention them when opportunity presents itself.

It's early evening and the sun has come out but we are on the port side so can't see the land. That's something we'll be able to discuss when you ask about which side of the ship the cabin should be on. Actually for inside passage, it really makes no difference normally. However on this trip we will actually sail back to Victoria on the outside (Pacific route) so will not have much to say about the scenery.

Tomorrow is Ketchikan. The battery is getting low so that's it for today. I'll charge it up tonight and talk about our tour in the next post. I believe we are going to Saxman Indian Village where they make totem poles. Totem poles are for fun and not religious and I will tell you that now. We learned that last time we were here.

From the calm sea in Alaska, good evening everyone.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

On the train to Vancouver

I'm actually writing this while traveling on the train between Seattle and BC where we get ship. It is also a test for the broadband service I pay for. If you read this, it works .

Flights were long but smooth yesterday and the weather was great when we arrived in Seattle. After checking into hotel, we made contact with friends we planned to have dinner with at the Space Needle and rested.

The Space Needle is impressive! If you get to Seattle, it is a must do. Of course several cruise lines sail from here for Alaska cruise so one day you might. The restaurant is amazing and it is some experience. Of course, only the area where the tables are rotate around, not the structure itself.

As we are slowly revolving and getting the different panoramic view of Seattle and Puget Sound, all of a sudden we noticed things on the ledge of the windows (the ledge is staionary) and people actually put notes and things and eventually (it takes 47 minutes to revolve) you get back to your note. One young person put one on the ledge saying it was her birthday party and there were $ bills next to it. There were several things but that was pretty interesting (I wonder how much she collected?)

Dinner and the service were extremely good but in all honesty, you are paying for the ambiance and view. One needs to figure about $75 pp for dinner. There is a $35 pp minimum but appetizer, soup, dessert and coffee will be about that. Most meals were $40+. Limited menu but nice choices.

We are on the train with several friends and other agents heading towards our annual conference and the jokes are really starting to heat up. We know that the week will be filled with sights, great learning, and fun (it is our 7th conference).

That's it so far so from somewhere along the rails I will say so long for today Next post will be when we are sailing along the Inside Passage.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Alaska here we come

As we are getting ready to leave for an Alaska cruise in a couple of days (why the Eight Stars article was so interesting to me) for our annual company conference, excitement is building around here. Clothes are on the bed ready to be packed (sort of), paperwork is being checked and of course we are trying to take care of all client requests before we leave.

The same as we did in the Spring from the Emerald Princess going accross the Atlantic and through the Med, we will post daily about our experiences and we invite you to travel along with us (minus the scenery and food unfortunately) as we share the things we do in the various of ports of call. One of our goals is to find Memorials to Benny Benson in the various ports and towns we will visit. If we do we will take pictures and I will learn how to upload them to the blog.

We are also planning something very special later in September or early October with our first "live" online broadcast where we will be featuring Alaska (and it will not be political ). So if you are not on our e-mail distribution list yet (and want to be), just send an e-mail to with your name and request we add you. You will then be able get the advance notice to register for this special event and others in the future as space will be limited for these broadcasts. We will also post registration information on our website and here on Ask Me About Cruising but the e-mail goes out at least 24 hours earlier.

Well time to go back to work.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Eight Stars on a Field of Blue

A week from now we will be leaving for our annual conference which this year will be on the Celebrity Mercury for an 8 night Alaska Cruise (and yes, I will do a daily posting from the ship during the trip as I did on the trip across the Atlantic and through the Med earlier this year).

Did you know that it is coming up on the 50th Anniversary of Alaska becoming a state (Jan 3, 1959-2009). In the Fall issue of Mariner Magazine from Holland America Line that I received a couple of days ago, there was a very interesting story about the design and creation of the Alaska State flag.

I requested permission from Holland America Line to share this article with you since you may not be a HAL Mariner (past passenger) as we are and would therefore not get this magazine. They graciously allowed me to put this out on my blog.

On behalf of all the visitors to this posting in particular, thank you Holland America Line for allowing me to share this story. The title is Eight Stars in a Field of Blue.

John Bell “Benny” Benson didn’t have a very auspicious start in life. Born in the tiny Aleutian hamlet of Chignik, Alaska, in 1913, he was only three when the family home burned down. Soon after, his Aleut-Russian mother died of pneumonia, and with few alternatives, his Swedish fisherman father sent Benny and his brother to an orphanage/school In Unalaska.

Benny was instructed in the usual school subjects, but as was common at the Jesse Lee Home, he was also taught self-reliance skills such as cooking and sewing. Little did he know that thousands of miles away, fate was determining his destiny.

Contest with Destiny

While George Parks, the new territorial governor, was in Washington D.C>, it was pointed out to him that Alaska was the only U.S. territory lacking its own flag. When Parks returned north, he brought with him the idea for a territorywide contest among students for the flag’s design.

Benny didn’t think he had much chance to win, since he was only 13 and competing against much older students. But he did have his own impressions of the place he grew up – a region virtually barren of trees but where the sky extended from horizon to horizon and where bears and wildflowers were numerous.

While other students created elaborate patterns visualizing Alaska’s wildlife, mining or marine heritage, Benny kept his simple. Along with his entry, he outlined for the judges the personal meaning he placed behind the symbols he chose – eight gold stars on a field of Blue: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, the most northerly of the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear symbolizing strength.”

Symbol of hope

The judges unanimously selected Benny’s design from 700 entries from all around the territory, heralding it for its simplicity, originality and symbolism. In exchange for his winning entry, Benny received a gold watch engraved with the flag and $1,000 toward his education.

The prize was awarded in 1927, when times were tough in Alaska. The economy was suffering greatly as Alaska’s wealth was siphoned off by interests in the U.S., and as a territory with little political clout, Alaska had little recourse to stop the flow.

Immediately following the contest, Governor Parks began receiving requests from across the nation for the new flag with the wonderful backstory. This not only helped give Alaska’s residents a sorely needed morale boost, but also increased Alaska’s profile to the rest of the world. With the subsequent election of President Roosevelt and the influx of “New Deal” projects, Alaska finally gained tractions to succeed in its push toward statehood.

From Aleutian orphan to ambassador.

At first Benny hid from his celebrity, literally running into the woods when visitors arrived at the school. But over time he used his notoriety to serve as a “goodwill ambassador” for Alaska, and helped to break down barriers for native Alaskans. He often said that the greatest thrill of his live was receiving a standing ovation as he was presented to the delegates of the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1959, when his flag was converted from a territorial flag to a state flag. He also became the first Alaska native to be officially admitted to the Elks Club in Alaska, despite the protests of Elks Lodges in the Lower 48.

Benny spent most of his adult life in Kodiak working as an airplane mechanic, but in his free time he used the sewing skills he acquired at the Jess Lee Home to make autographed Alaska flags for each newly crowned Miss Alaska, legislative members and visiting dignitaries. Although he passed away in 1972, his memory lives on as streets, schools and monuments in Alaska commemorate his remarkable contribution to the great state of Alaska.

I invite your comments.
Al R

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hurricanes Galore

An interesting question was asked and this was a new one. "When there are two hurricanes in the Caribbean - one in the east and one in the west, where do the ships go?"

Needless to say none of the cruise lines will put passengers, crew or ship in jeopardy when storms are brewing. If there is something in the Gulf of Mexico or threatening Jamaica, Cayman Islands, or Mexico, they normally change and do an Eastern Itinerary and vica versa.

But now, we have Gustav heading into the Gulf and Hanna playing around and growing east of the Leeward Islands (supposed to follow Gustav maybe and loop around to Cuba and west and then north into the Gulf.

So this is a great question! With the sophisticated sattelite information and the flexibility to move ships as necessary, somehow they can travel around and get behind storms or out far enough in front to head to where the storm already passed through. Either way, they do seem to keep ships out of harm's way. Maybe a or several ports are useless (damage etc.) so they can't stop there, but there is so much to do on the ship anyway----------- but that's another topic.

Gustav and Hannah are sure making life interesting right now for the cruise lines and I'm sure glad I'm not the one trying to figure it out and make it all work. Living here in FL, hurricanes are always a concern but we have never not felt safe being on a ship (and love to cruise during hurricane season). I actually think of them as great hurricane shelters - bars, food, entertainment and activities (hot water and electricity too ) which can be much better than at home (ie Wilma a few years ago - and yes, we missed that "fun" time while on a cruise. IN fact, it turned into a 9 night cruise since the ship was not allowed back to S FL - oh what a shame).

So the answer to the question is somewhere safe, you can bet on that.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Test is strange

Seems like the test is not working correctly (and learned I could not change the misspelling you may have noticed once a vote was cast) so have pulled the test down for now. I will be doing another one shortly once I figure out what is happening.

Seems like there are 3 votes and 6 recorded and the results are up rather than the choices. Back to the drawing board on this idea.

Monday, August 25, 2008

We need your help with a test

Thanks in advance!

I am testing something for use shortly and would appreciate your help. You will notice a "poll" set up on the right. Please select one of the 4 choices for me. This is strictly a test! The poll means absolutely nothing so don't read anything into it.

Last week we created e-mail distribution lists and sent a notice to all in our data base about this, and yes, gave people an option to opt out of them. We will be doing a much better job in getting information out on many things, specials, promotions, etc. to our clients using technology.

One of the first things we will be doing is creating a newsletter and we will announce a contest shortly to help us come up with a great name for it. That is the reason for this poll test. Once name ideas are submitted, we will choose several that we like and let our friends and clients make the decision.

And yes, we will have a great prize for the winning selection. So thanks again for helping in this test and stay tuned.


Have a question or concern? Post it here or e-mail us at You never know, it may get answered here on the Ask Me About Cruising blog.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Visits to Blog milestone

Thanks to all of you (whomever you are) who read our Blog on a regular basis. Some are fellow agents and some are clients or prospective clients. I only wish the person who had been the one who was the # 1000 visit recorded would have left a comment so I know who you were. Let me know and there might be something in it for you.

I am working on an idea combining this blog and our website for a fun contest and then you will need to identify yourself to enter .

So thanks again all who read this blog and I hope I have given you some good insight, ideas, or information that will be beneficial for your cruise vacations in the future.

I need topics though so please ask questions. In fact, ask questions that I might have to research and I can learn new things too.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Disembarkation Chaos-Don 't Blame the Cruise Line

You've had a wonderful cruise, met new friends, ate yourself into a coma (hopefully not), visited interesting places and won in the casino (hopefully). You've been relaxed and having a good time all week or whatever length cruise you have been on, and you've come to that final morning when it is time to disembark the ship. The NIGHTMARE begins!

Long lines, delays, people are upset and complaining about everything even if it didn't relate to the cruise and it is natural to blame the cruise line for these delays in getting off the ship. We went through this just yesterday coming off the NCL Sky (we were on a Seminar at Sea) in Miami. We opted to not take our own luggage off the ship and took a late "color tag" so we could take our time getting off the ship and not have to rush.

We had had a nice relaxing breakfast and headed to the gangway around 9 AM. Ooopps! There was a long line both at the exit from the ship and in the terminal waiting to go through customs. I turned to Helen and said "let's find a seat and wait a little while." Why stand in a line and wait when we could sit in a lounge and wait for the line to move along. A few minutes later there is an announcement "Attention passengers we have a slight delay in the terminal and apologize for the delay. We will disembark you as soon as possible." We heard some groans from people near us. Then the announcement about 15 mintes later again apologizing but it was explained that the Customs folks had an issue with their computers and could not clear people through the customs and immigration process.

Let's be fair here to the cruise lines. They want you to get off as quickly as possible so they can prepare the ship for those coming on in a few hours. They don 't delay the process. Think about embarkation. Yes, there are lines but they move quickly because they have control over the process. They put as many check in personnel at a station as possible. (Things are a little slow at first at the security check-in getting into the terminal with screening carry on and people but again, that's not really the cruise lines fault. Actually it's people who slow things down there by not being prepared for this process (another topic for another day).)

We ended up getting off the ship around 11 AM - two hours later than we started to. Those people who got off at 7:30 had no problem (except lugging luggage ) and there were some who stood in line for a very long time. In fact, we went back to the buffet area and got some coffee and read a book and it was stress free for us.

The point is be prepared that when issues happen with Customs and Immigration, you will be delayed getting off the ship and it is not the cruise lines fault so please, be fair and don't blame them. We hear clients say that the process of getting off the ship was so bad that we will never sail on that cruise line again. Guess what, it happens to all cruise lines at various times.

So my tip today is when disembarking the ship and you see long lines, you have two choices. Go back somewhere on the ship and relax or stand in line and complain. If you then stand in line and wait and wait, put the blame where it really belongs - on YOU. You made that choice.

On a side note, things do happen at disembarkation beyond anyone's control and this is why we never recommend planning flights home before noon time or even later depending on the port you are at. There will be lines at the airport too and you don't need to stress yourself out anymore than flying stresses people out these days trying to catch your flight.

When we saw the lines moving again and get smaller, that's when we left the ship, went through customs, got our luggage and into the car and it all took less than 30 minutes without any stress.

So it's not the cruise lines fault and they should not be blamed when disembarkation doesn't go smooth (and very rarely does it). You've relaxed all week so please don't ruin it the last morning for yourself or others.

Please feel free to share your thoughts or suggestions on this topic in the comment section. Your comments are appreciated.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Fuel Supplements????

First off, as a professional cruise specialist, let me say that we have no control over the cruise lines pricing. We do not make any commission on the fuel supplements, port charges or gov't fees only the cruise fare portion of the price you pay.

The thought struck me about the added fuel supplements that as the cost of fuel (per barrel) was going up, the fuel supplements were added on to the cost of a cruise. OK, I personally did not have a problem with this since it takes a lot of fuel to run these wonderful cruise ships and staying in port was not my plan for my cruise vacations. They started at $5 for the 1st and 2nd passenger, then went to $7 and then $10 or more and even the 3rd and 4th in the cabin were being charged something.

But as the price of fuel is coming down, the supplements are not. Why? This was supposed to be "temporary" to offset the cost of fuel until prices came back down. Needless to say since booking people on their cruise vacations is how we earn our money, I will not be in favor of boycotting cruises.

Even with the fuel supplement added to the price, cruising still represents a great value and is our personal preferred way to vacation (and yes, with only a few exceptions, we pay for our cruises the same as you although we do get to save the commission portion since it comes back to us).

Hopefully the fuel supplements will be reduced soon. Helen and I will be going on a Seminar at Sea on the NCL Sky next week. Now that the ship is going to be in Miami for the 3/4 day itinerary, and we are well familiar with the Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships, it will give us a chance to know this product also for making recommenadations to our clients.

We will be attending many hours of workshops during the cruise so it is work actually (I know - it's a sacrifice but someone has to do it ). My point here is that I believe once one cruise line lowers their fuel supplement, the others will follow suit (the same as the airlines) and I will try to bring this up during one of the meetings. I can't guarantee anything will happen but I can guarantee nothing will if nothing is mentioned or tried. I will also look for opportunities to bring this up in other ways.

Time will tell.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Getting upgrades on your cruise

I get questions from our clients or prospective clients and also other sources. Today there was one that I thought was interesting and worth sharing my thoughts on. Here is the response as I posted it and the question:

How do you get a free upgrade when cruising? Should I book through Orbit's or the cruise line?

First off, I have my own thoughts on upgrades. Most of the time, to me as a professional, upgrades are a marketing scheme.

Going from an inside to an inside or oceanview to an oceanview to me is not really an upgrade. Sure it is a higher category and would normally be a little more cost if booked into that category, but it really is just a different deck, It's still the same "type" cabin. Now going from an inside to oceanview or oceanview to balcony would be a true "upgrade" in my opinion.

So to answer your question, there is no way to guarantee an upgrade and any agent who tells you that is simply lying (unless they are paying for it for you). The cruise lines offer it to fill cabins and when the promotions say 2 cat upgrade, it's simply that they are not gettiing people to book into the category they are moving you to so it is marketing. It's like car dealors offering $1000 cash back. Are they really giving you cash back or do they have it built into the price already or giving you less of a "discount" then they would without the $1000 back?

Is it a bad thing for you to get a cat upgrade when booking if that is the promo? No. You are still getting a higher category without the higher cost. But I think the question is more about after booking than when booking the cruise.

Another way people get upgraded is again due to marketing. Lets say they have cabins available on the ship and using a 1-10 scale (1 lowest), they have cabins in category 4 available. Cat 4 is a higher cost than cat 1,2, or 3. they would rather be able to advertise the lower price but they first have to move people out of the lower cat so they actually have it available to sell.

Booking a "guarantee" basis can also get you an upgrade (their idea of one anyway for the same reason above). On a gty, you are getting what you pay for or better. Using Carnival for example, booking a cat OV (oceanview gty) means a minimum of a 6A which is the lowest cat oceanview. Normally the OV costs a little less than the 6A so you do save money on the price of the cruise You get assigned a cabin at a future date when they see which ones they can not sell for the higher price.

But they might move you to a 6B (one deck higher) to free up the 6A to sell later on. Past passengers usually get priority in the "pecking order" of who gets upgraded and also those who booked earliest.

Lastly, booking with a cruise line direct will not help you get upgraded any more than booking with a cruise specialist or reputable agency. In fact, having an agent working for you, might improve your chances just a little. Cruise lines do like to take care of the customers of National Accounts since we give them so much business. It's still not a guarantee you will get upgraded but it doesn't hurt your chances either.

An having one person to work with throughout the process (before, during and after booking) is a big advantage for the consumer. You will never have that with Orbitz or any online company as they are really just order takers, they do not have the expertise or incentive to worry about you after you book. A cruise specialist is looking for repeat and referral business from you and becomes more involved to assure you choose the right cruise and get the best value for your money. they are your advocate and really do work for you.

So thanks to the person, whomever you are that asked this question in Yahoo. Maybe you will get to my BLOG one day and if you ever want a good cruise specialist to work with and for you, go to our website and get in touch with me. Be sure to let me know you are the one who asked this question. It just might get you a nice bottle of wine on the cruise we book you on.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Need more copies of ship photos?

On the Carnival Fascination this past weekend, I learned something new (maybe I knew it but forgot or never thought about it since it never came up before) and thought it was worth sharing. Many of you probably knew this already but here goes.

Since we had a grandson visit us for a week, we decided to treat him to a cruise as an early birthday present (any excuse to cruise works for us ). One of the things we have been doing since our very first cruise is buy the Welcome Aboard picture. In fact, if you visit our website and the page where you can meet us, that is the first one from the Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas in Dec 1997. Helen wishes I would change it but it is so significant to our last 10+ years cruising, and how we became Cruise Specialists, I just will not do it (and she doesn't know how to so I get my way on this one ).

When we went to buy the photo on this trip there was only one copy printed. We needed one for our collection and we wanted him to have one since he would never have the "first cruise Welcome Aboard" picture opportunity. I never really paid attention to the fact that there is a number on the back of the photo and we could simply order an extra copy. We ordered it Sunday evening and picked it up Monday morning. It was that simple!

So if you ever are in the situation of needing additional copies of ship photos, you can get them. Can you order after you leave the ship? I'm not sure but I guess on our next cruise I will ask since I just asked myself the question.

A simple thought but maybe will prove worthwhile for someone in the future. Happy sailing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Disembarkation day

We haven't had a lot a questions lately, at least none that I thought would be an interesting topic, until one last night about the disembarkation at the end of the cruise.

The question was "what time should I have my driver pick us up when we get back?"

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this one. Although the ship is scheduled back in port the last morning at a certain time, things can happen where it is both a little earlier or later. Then the process of "clearing" the ship which is a Customs and Immigration thing. Most of the time this is fairly routine but things happen here too.

Then it is the actual process of disembarking the passengers. First, luggage must be taken off ship and put in the terminal. The cruise lines assign you a number or color or some such designation so that they are not having 2000+ people trying to exit the ship at the same time. It can be a little chaotic (said toungue in cheek) with that many people looking for their bags, finding a porter, and then going through the customs and immigration process.

By working smaller groups, the process becomes much less aggravating for you the passenger. So how are these groups determined? Normally, passengers with earlier flights booked through the cruise line get off earlier. There is a simple reason for this. The bus that takes these people to the airport is also the bus (s) that are going to be bringing people back to the ship for the next cruise who are getting in during the morning hourson their flights. People who purchase disembarkation tours (those with later flights) need to be off the ship to start the tour. These jtours end at the airport and these buses actually are the ones that bring people back from the airport with the flights getting in late morning or early afternoon. It's all a timing thing.

Normally last is people who have made their own arrangements after the cruise, which are many. So you still all can't get off at the same time.

The question about "what time should my driver pick me up?" is therefore a tough one to answer and be sure we as the agent are going to advise our client correctly. 9 - 10 AM is pretty safe time for planning. Most limo drivers know the drill and may even have a waiting place (diner or something) close by.

What you should do is have the driver's cell number (if you know who your driver is) or the company number and call to confirm your pick up and then call again when your color/number is called and you are ready to leave the ship. Alternately, you can call when you get into the terminal and have your luggage in hand.

We do this with many of our clients when we are going to meet with them at the airport or after their cruise. We also try to arrange a certain "meeting point" especially at a port terminal. It is going to be crowded and a little "crazy" that morning so my best advice is be patient and don't make the last day of your cruise so stressful that you need a nother vacation right away. (What am I saying? Better yet, make it stressful, get home, have a drink and call us to book your next cruise right away .)

Seriously, you've relaxed all week on the cruise so be patient and it will work out OK.

I had another thought after posting this a little while ago. When we personally drive to the pier or make our own arrangements for air, we don't mind waiting for a later disembarkation time. We can sleep a little longer and relax with a nice breakfast and actually delay getting "eveicted" from the ship.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Book your cruise vacation early

This is something I've talked about before - booking early - and now there is even more reason to plan ahead. getting to the embarkation port.

We all know that booking early makes sense for both best pricing and best choice of categories and cabin locations (especially if you are looking for more than one cabin next to each other).

But on the news this morning, they were talking about air fare increases again. In fact, the 21st attempt at raising air fares due to fuel costs. All the legacy airlines have just added another $20 round trip to the prices except US airways. If you are going to have to fly to the port of embarkation, you not only need to commit (deposit) your cruise but you also need to purchase air for the trip and not wait.

With less planes in the sky since airlines are cutting back flights, there are less seats to compete for so lower priced ones go faster. Higher cost of air means higher cost of your vacation.

Even several cruise lines now are changing their air/sea policy. They may quote you are pricing when you book and deposit but that air price is not guaranteed until the bo0king is fully paid.

For the most part, we have always helped our clients find air independent of the cruise line anyway since it will normally be lower priced but when we do use their air (expecially for cruises that depart in one port and return to another or one way to Europe for example) the cruise line is usually a better choice.

Does this mean it might be better to fully pay for your cruise earlier too? Normally 75 days out is when the booking must be fully paid. But think about this - even if fully paid and cancelled before the final payment due date and the cancellation penalties begin, you can still get a full 100% refund of monies paid. So now even paying the balance due earlier may be advantageous when using cruise line air to lock in air pricing.

It's just something to think about.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Where's George? .com

OK, this has nothing to do with cruising but is a fun thing and quite interesting.

Did you ever wonder where the paper money you have in your wallet has been or where it goes to? There is a website where you can register and track paper money and it has been going on for quite some time. In fact, over $700 million in bills (of all denominations) have been registered.

If you find a bill that has the website written on it, go to the site and record it. You will then see where it has been. I got one yesterday and had forgotten all about this until then. The last time it was recorded was in January of this year in Vermont. I'm in FL so it has had an interesting trip for the last six months.

If you register on the site (it's free) and you can be notified when a bill shows up somewhere. You can also register bills into the list. So if you ever see a bill with written on it, do record it's travels. Who knows it might be one of mine as I just sent several on their journey today.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Cruising and Gratuities

The question came up this week about the "suggested" guidlines for gratuities (or tipping) on a cruise and the fact the automatically put it on the charges on the ship. The lady who was booking did not like the idea of having $10 per person per day put on their account. It wasn't that she did not leave gratuity but wanted to give it to the person (s) herself and determine how much to give them based on the service level she received.

There is nothing wrong with this and it is simply a matter of going to the Purser's Desk and letting them know you do not want them added each day to your account.

The guidelines are $3.50 per person (pp) per day for the cabin attendent, $3.50 for the waiter, $2.50 for the assistant waiter and .50 for the Head Waiter. 15% is added to all bar bills so that is something different (and I don't know of anyone who has ever gotten those taken off.) This is a pretty fair amount IMHO as they work quite hard 3 or more times a day for us passengers. Most of the time, I'll give them extra anyway besides what is being put on the account as I do appreciate their efforts. But on occasion, I have been very dissatisfied with the service level and will not do anything extra since they didn't. Only once in 38 cruises have I actually had the gratuities taken off my account (since they started doing that) and did not tip one of the service people.

The word TIPS really stands for "To Insure Prompt Service" and was given before being served way back when. Today it is more traditional to give at the end of a meal or stay.

Gratuities are a reward not an obligation! It is your choice to tip or not as you determine. I worked in the restaurant business as a waiter for many years and if I did not give the best service possible, I got smaller tips. It was my fault, not the customers!

So don't think you have to leave on the on board account if you don't want to. It's up to you and you alone. Only exception is NCL America in Hawaii and they are up front that this is a mandatory service fee. Was the service always worth it? No, but you had to live with that (or do you?) I have known people who complained and did get it removed or got a credit for a future cruise to offset it. It is rare that the service on a cruise ship is not good so either in person or on the account, the $10 per day is really a bargain for all the crew does for passengers compared to eating out 3-4 times a day.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cash on Hand when cruising

In speaking to a young lady from TX this morning who is planning her first cruise - honeymoon I might add - she did ask a question that has been asked before so a good one to put on here today.

The question was "How much cash should I bring on board?" Needless to say there is no definitive answer for this. The ships themselves are basically cashless and upon checking in you set up an onboard account with credit card or cash and then sign for drinks, purchases, etc on board during the cruise. The casinos will take cash (and take and take and take if you don't watch out) so I guess you need to figure how much you need for that if planning on spending time in the casino. Of course you can also charge money to your onboard account (there is a service fee in some casinos to do this) if you run out of cash. Again - caution and don't overdo it.

When in port you do need some cash for "chatchka's" (I have no idea how to spell that), drinks, etc. but we also recommend for anything purchased over $40-50, use a credit card. That is for your protection.

So how much cash does one need? Only you can figure it out. You should not carry a lot of cash in port anyway (safety) but only what you might need. You do have a safe in the stateroom to keep your money secure. Never flash money in port or even on the ship for that matter for your own safety. There are also ATM machines on the ship (fee usually $5.50 unless it is your bank and then a fee from your bank too. We normally see BankAtlantic on ships).

You need some cash but cash is available if you need more. Traveler Checks can also be cashed on board and of course that is another safe way to carry money.

Before you ask, we normally take $100 or less into port with us and of course have our budget for the casino but then we only take so much with us and leave the rest in the room safe each day. If we win (and we do on occasion) we just add that to the "stash".

So thank you Kati in TX for giving me a topic for today and congratulations to you and Zach on your upcoming wedding.

Smooth Seas and Blue Skies to you all.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another reason to book early

I've given reasons for booking early for a cruise vacation in the past - best choice of cabin accomodations (category and location), best pricing etc. - but with the cost of fuel and the supplements being added on by cruise lines and the raising of prices by airlines plus their cutting schedules, another reason to book early is the cost of getting to the port of embarkation.

Once you are booked on a cruise, the fuel supplement surcharge is locked in also. The lines are raising the supplement charged around June 20th so this week you still save a few dollars ($14 pp on a typical 7 night cruise). $14 is $14 which is a couple of drinks, a photo or whatever.

Also, if air is needed, grab those tickets early. I just checked our flights for Seattle for our conference cruise in Sept. We bought the tickets a couple of months ago at $341 each. Today those same flights were $497. That's a combined savings to us of over $300.

Even locking in the cruise line air may not be a bad idea when making your initial reservation. You've locked in a price so you know the worse case scenario for that cost and in most cases you've also locked in transfers to/from the ship. If or when you find a better deal on air yourself, you can always cancel the air portion of the booking and purchase the other air and separate transfers if necessary (many times in that case a cab might be a savings.

Also, if the flights get cancelled and you have cruise line air reserved, they will scramble to find other flights before they are ticketed and those will probably cost them more, not you. We also had flights booked for a special cruise Nov 30th doing S. Caribbean from San Juan. I booked non-stop r/t from Ft. Lauderdale. Then I get an e-mail from the airline saying my flights have been cancelled and this is my new itinerary.

Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas, a two hour layover and then fly to San Juan (over Ft. Lauderdale mind you) turing this into a 10 hour trip. They are no longer offering non-stop from FLL to SJU with their cutbacks. Needless to say I called the airline and complained about this and was prepared to find other flights on a different airline. Prices were up substantially for the dates needed but did get the airline to book us on r/t non-stop from Miami for the same price we paid. Those tickets were also more than we paid originally. We would have and have done the same for clients but this time it was actually for us personally

So again, booking your cruise vacation early has many advantages and of course using a cruise specialist (like us) who is going to look out for your best interests before and after booking.

A different subject but stay tuned as we are working on a contest combining our website and this BLOG. Details will be announced soon.

Great day and smooth seas to all.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Cruising During Hurricane Season

Hi folks - I'm back!

It has been a hectic couple of weeks but things are basically back to normal now. We've redesigned the office, we had a wonderful cruise on the Carnival Victory (thanks to the Ocean Players Club), and are settling into the new routine with Al being retired from the Corporate side of the business and no longer recruiting agents for Cruises Inc. and concentrating on building our agency client base up.

A question came up yesterday since June 1 is the start of hurricane season about cruising during hurricane season and I thought this was a great question to share my views. My question back was "Why not?"

Think about it a little. A cruise ship costs about $400-500,000,000+. There are 2000+ passengers on the ship and a crew of 1000+. Do you think they are going to put all this at risk? Of course not! The cruise lines all have very sophisticated weather instruments and are constantly monitoring sea conditions. They are very aware of any potential problems and since ships are "mobile", they can change course at any time there is potential danger.

A resort or hotel that is land based is stuck right where it is no matter what. If an area is evacuated where the resort you are staying at is in danger, your vacation is either over or you may be stuck without food, water, electricity etc. A ship changes course and vacation continues. Running out of food on a cruise ship? That will be the day .

We have cruised during hurricane season many times. In fact living in Florida, I joke about my "hurricane shelter" having 10-14 bars and lounges and the "big" sacrifice might be running low on lobster. A couple of years ago our 7 night Eastern Carribean cruise turned into a 9 night Western with an overnight in Cozumel (which the crew loved since they never get to go out at night there).

Pricing can also be very consumer advantageous during the peak hurricane months of September and October because schools are back in session so less family market to draw business from and people worry about hurricanes so the promotions (ie - prices) are more attractive and represent even better value to book during these months.

And if you are booked and the ship can not get back to port on the embarkation day, the cruise lines normally are quite generous in their compensation to people whose vacation is shortened both for that cruise and a future one - again better value for the consumer.

So this is a great time frame to book cruise for. If there is no weather issue, you get greater value, if there is you also benefit. Of course, you should also take the travel protection offered since weather could effect your getting to the embarkation port or getting home and you want to be covered for those expenses should it become a necessity.

We love to cruise during hurricane season and part of our packing is the house and car insurance papers (remember we live in Florida). Our area got hit pretty hard during Wilma a couple of years ago but we were on the Carnival Conquest during the first 7 days of no electricity or water at home. The ship was supposed to leave from New Orleans but was switched to Galveston due to Katrina. That's what I mean about flexible and mobile - ships can be moved, hotels/resorts can not.

So book a cruise during hurricane season and don't worry about it. You either have a great vacation or get additional benefits if a hurricane effects it. Either way - YOU win!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why no posts for 2 weeks

OK, so alot of people have either e-mailed or called me and wonder why I haven't written anything since returning home from the Emerald Princess. The answer is, I'm not sure.

The one question I had for myself is "how did I find the time to work at our Corporate Office since I haven't had enough time daily since retiring?" I haven't been out to play golf or any of those "retired" things but simply trying to either catch up with our business or working on the "projects" at home.

We've rearranged our office, living room, guest room and worked on turning our lawn green again (been a drought here in FL), family things and basically getting our "game plan" together for moving forward. We haven't even looked at the 400 pictures we took on the trip nor played with the Wii game that was given to us as a special gift by NCL at last year's conference in the last two weeks.

Did have the pleasure of meeting one of our clients from TX one afternoon when he had about 4 hours in S. FL after a business trip to the area before his return flight home. Anytime any client or friend is in the area we do try to meet up with them. Since we consider any client a part of our cruise family, it's nice to actually meet them in person especially when up to the first time, it has only been by phone contact.

Things are getting back to normal here and we are finally almost organized again. Of course, we are leaving again Sunday on the Carnival Victory for a 7 night W. Caribbean cruise. I will not do a daily post like I did on the Emerald but will try to put something out during the week.

One of the things I like to put out there is answers to questions asked by one person that might help others. So please ask us something you would like to know or wonder about that we could share with others. Post a reply here, send us an e-mail (you can use which is a special e-mail address we have, or even give us a call.

One new committment planned right now is for both Helen and I to take the required courses to complete our ACC certification finally. We have enrolled for several training classes on June 3rd as part of this process. This may not mean much to you but it is a way for us to improve our knowledge and skills to do a better job (and we think we do pretty good now based on our repeat and referral business) for our current and future clients benefit.

I will make the committment to post more often and really would like your help with topics or questions that will be enjoyable for others. You can also go to our website and read cruise news to keep up with articles and of course, check our From Your Cruise Specialist section for anything special we might have going on.

Now it's time to "find my desk" again since it has gotten lost. Oh, I know it's there because something has to be holding all the papers and stuff.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

a Long Day of Traveling

It's 11 PM in FL and we have arrived home! Since we started out in Barcelona today at what would be yesterday now for them, (it's about 24 hours since we got up with the time change) this is going to be very short.

Flight was long but nice. And that's it for tonight. Brain is not working too well right now but should feel more normal after a good nights sleep.

So good night.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bags are packed and it's almost over

We did the packing, set the bags outside our stateroom and speding our last night relaxing and getting ready for the flight home tomorrow.

Today we visited the Provence region of France. Again some amazing green countryside. Visited an old Chateau, medieval actually with both Gothic and Renassiance Architecture. Steps were quite interesting - this means worn out - so walking up was a challenge.

We then went to another medieval town where we had lunch and it was absolutely the best lunch we have ever had on a tour! Plus they put plenty of wine on the tables and let's just say everyone slept on the way back to the ship in Marseille

We are tired so will really do the wrap up posting on Thursday after we get back on FL time. All in all the trip was wonderful and we got more than we expected.

From Europe and the beautiful Emerald Princess we are signing off until back in the US and get a good nights sleep.

CIAO, Areviderci, Buenos Noches, Adios, and Good night!

PS - Yes there have been misspellings but what the heck. You figured out what I have meant.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tuscany Region in Italy

The pictures will never do justice to our tour today! At this time of the year the Tuccan Region is so green and lush but that will change in a month or so when the wheat is cut and the real heat sets in.

Today our tour included two medieval cities - San Gimignano and Volterra. We also had lunch at a beautiful old farmhouse Frattoria San Donoato. A true Italian lunch with all types of appetizers to begin with, some great fresh pasta and then homemade biscotti's. Of course we also had the wine and appertif they produce on the farm. All the items were fresh local things and what a pleasure it was.

The two medieval cities we visited were quite the site. both built around the 3rd century and at Valterra, there were even some ancient Roman ruins from BC. The views from both since they were on a hilltop were indescribable which is why I said the pictures will not do it justice (but we took plenty).

A real treat in Valterra which is also the Alabascar capital of the world was watching one of the artist sculpturers create a little vase from a piece of alabascar. As soon as he was done I asked him how much for it before anyone else thought of it. $10 Euro and we are bringing it home. We do have a nice picture of him when creating it and when finished. It will be a super memorable momento of this trip.

In the other city we found a Gelato shop with the World Champion Gelato makers for both 2006-2207 and 2008-2009. Gelato is great but this was outstanding! We took a picture of Helen and I outside the shop under their sign eating the Gelato. I intend to submit this picture to Princess for their photo contest and maybe it will win us a cruise. Time will tell.

It's France tomorrow and then back to the ship to pack since we end this trip on Wed morning. It has been a glorious cruise. One day hopefully anyone who reads this blog will experience it also and even if you don't book it through us, book it and do it!


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rome and catching up

We've either had sattelite problems or the internet cafe was busy so haven't been back to you for a few days. I also thought I had posted the other day but ran out of minutes so computer cut out before it went through.

Our balcony breakfast went well. A great variety of foods, coffee, juice, champagne etc so we had a great time. It was a little windy so we spread things out on the bed for the 4 of us (the couple who had to buy joined us). The rest of that day was at sea - our last one.

Yesterday we were in Cagliari Sardinia. What a beautiful island although only got to see a small part of it. Main part of the tour we took was to the archelogical site of the ancient city of Nora. Seeing the ruins made us think a little of Mayan Ruins but these were quite different. It is quite amazing to think of what they built with the limited tools back in the BC days. They are still excavating this site as it was discovered by accident in 1956. Part of it is still under the sea and part on a military site. There were still some of the houses that showed the mosaic tiles in place and to think of that work is mind boggling.

Today we went to Rome. Seeing the ruins in the old city, the colleseum, and Vatican City and St. Peter's Basillica was an experience that is hard to describe. History come to life both past and present. Helen being Catholic did get a little teary eyed standing in the area of the Vatican we all see on TV when the Pope is doing something with the masses. Being Sunday and with something special going on unfortunately we could not get into the Vatican Museum so they subsituted the Dominica Catacombs instead. That was something quite interesting and walking through them was amazing. There are still about 2000 original grave sites dating back a whole bunch of years that were not vandalized for the marble which the other 4000 sites were (including the bones). Needless to say we did not walk through all of the catacombs but did get to see enough.

This was a great tour but we sure did some walking today! Plus leaving at 7:30 AM so figure what time we got up we are all tired. And we get to do this again tomorrow in Livorno (port of Florence). We are doing a tour of the Tuscany Region (I think) since we have been to Florence last time and we get to sleep in. Tour starts at 7:45. Tuesday is Marseille France (another long tour day) then it's time to pack since we get evicted from the ship early Wed to fly home.

Again, I got some good pictures and hope to be able to share some of them with all who visit this BLOG.

For now though, CIAO!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Day on the Rock

Well today we had a great tour in Gibralter. We got to see a little of the city and also to the lighthouse area where we got a little of the history of Gibralter. It is at this point where you look west down the Strait of Gibralter, South to N Africa, North to Spain and East into the Med.

After that we went to the Rock. Took the cable car up - 30 people squeezed in like sardines - the mountain to the 412 (something not ft) point (top is at 426) and what a view! Of course if you know the history of Gibralter, this is where the Barbary Apes live and roam free. They will snatch things right out of your hands if you don't watch out. We got some great pictures of these monkeys.

One of them grabbed a ladies pony tail and it was pretty funny (not for her though). They are looking for food and will grab your arm and take any plastic bag right away thinking there is food in it. Mama's and babies and the mommy's really watch out for the kids when anyone gets close to them.

One jumped in our bus when we were leaving and actually sat on the steering wheel - while the van was moving. Dirver finally got him to jump back out of the window. A fascinating experience to be sure. Again, got a picture of the monkey on the wheel and will post that one later on when we are bak home again.

From there we went to the Great Seige Tunnels. Again, a fascinating piece of history. In fact our tour guide was a 2 yr old back when they had to evacuate women and children and was evactuated to Moracco when the war was breaking out (WW2). He did have quite an interesting story to tell and really does know the history of Gibralter. He has written a book (didn't buy it though) and was a history teacher in the schools here for many years.

Last stop was the Gibralter Museum. Not allowed to take pictures so you will have to see this one on your own. It was a great tour and we spent a little time in town and walked back to the ship - and walked, and walked, and walked. Weather was about 70 or so and was pleasent although tiring to do this. Never even found a bar to stop and have a brew since we picked the wrong streets to go down. All residential.

Tomorrow we are at sea for the last time and then it is Gagliari, Rome, Florence and Marseille the last 4 days. May not post each day since we will be up early and are doing 10 hour tours each day. This is going to be like work! Well not quite but is going to be a tiring few days coming up.

We also will be getting our Champagne Balcony Breakfast tomorrow (our bet with a friend on the trip from the Super Bowl - he's a diehard Patriot fan and oh well - he's buying breakfast tomorrow

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

You can't win them all

We're in Cadiz Spain today. Had to get up a 6 am since we had a tour starting at 8 and needed a little breakfast first (and of course coffee). Our tour was to a Sherry Winery and the Equestrian School.

OK, we got to taste some Sherry from the Tio Pepe cellars. The sweet was not bad but the dry was like medicine. It was interesting to see the barrels and a little explanation of the process. Unfortunately, they really don't take you to the area where they are really making and processing or bottling the stuff so not a very interesting tour or one we will recommend to clients.

Next it was off to the equestrian school. Again, no show so only saw the Andulusian horses in a warm up and training but no one explained what we were seeing. I could see horses doing this in the paddock area of a racetrack and can at least bet on one of them. Walking through the stables was - ehhh - since they don't allow any pictures. So the most interesting thing of the day, nothing to remember it by. I thought of buying a DVD to see what we had no idea we were watching. For 20 euro, wasn't worth it so I will write this one up to exercise.

Will we let this tour spoil our cruise? Absolutely not. Will I recommend to anyone? Absolutely not. So you can't win them all and tomorrow we are in Gibralter and get to see the "big rock." This should be pretty neat.

We are having a group dinner tonight with all our clients on board and agent friends in the Crown Grill. This is a specialty restaurant - Steak and Seafood - so we ate a light lunch to prepare for it now that we are back on the ship. A nap is in order so until tomorrow.............


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Day in Port and what not to do

I have no idea what day this is but we are back sailing towards Cadiz Spain. Yesterday in Madeira we had the most incredible experience. They have what they call a Tobagan Ride. You take the cable car to the top of the mountain (about 20 minute trip). What a view! Hope the pictures come out and I can post some of them for others to enjoy. Once on the top of the mountain, a short walk and you get to another road.

You must understand this is a beautiful island but it's all hills and small mountain. Once we got to the right location, there are the men with a wicker basket for 2 on sled runners. Get in and off we go. With nothing more than two ropes, they push the sled and you start down the mountain road. Twisting and turning as the road goes, you fly along down the mountain! They use the ropes to guide and brake the sled by twising it sideways. What an experience! Helen wasn't sure about this when we started and the picture does have a slight look of fear. But once at the bottom (about 6 minute ride) she was ready to do it again.

This is the only place in the world to do this so if you ever have the chance to get to Madeira, do it. They snapped a picture somewhere along the road (never saw them do it) and when we got to the bottom, they were there with the picture in a folder ready to sell you. Amazing how they have this worked out with a computer to get these ready in a matter of minutes. Of course we bought it

We also visited the Botanical Gardens and exotic birds. Georgeous, what else can I say. Again many pictures that hopefully we will be able to share later on.

Now for the "what not to do". Two people had the embarrassing and expensive experience of watching the ship sail out of port. Yes, they are on their own to get to Cadiz and catch up to get back on.

When they say be back on board by a certain time, you better be on board because that ship is leaving at a certain time with or without you. If you miss a ship, you better have a credit card to buy your air or whatever to get to the next port and return to ship. This is NOT covered by travel protection (stupidity never is) and it's going to be on "your dime."

When you take the excursions offerred through the cruise line, they have track of your return. If you are doing things on your own, they don't. If you finish the tour and then go out on your own, well again, you are on your own. You must always change your watch to "ship's time" and be back before the gangway is lifted.

We advise clients about this and fortunately never had one miss a ship during a port call. But we've seen it happen many times. Don't let it happen to you!

Tomorrow is Cadiz and we must get up early for our tour. In fact, we have early times every day for the remainder of the cruise so not sure what time of day I'll be able to post things.

Until later..................

Monday, April 21, 2008

Land Ho!

Well after 161 hours at sea on this absolutely smooth Atlantic crossing, land is just a couple of hours away. We will be visiting Madiera which is a Portugese island off the African Coast. We will be doing the tour with a cable car ride to the top of the highest point on the island and the Botanical Gardens plus whatever else is included in the tour (who knows, we booked it and figure it will be fine even though we don't remember what is included).

Another fine dinner last night and marvelous show with Broadway Star Michelle Murlin. What a voice she has! She probably would have resonated throughout the theater even without a mike. We love the shows on board since it is a live 10 piece orchestra, not piped in music, playing for the entertainers.

The sun is shining today and we expect to have a pleasant day on the island of Madiera.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Off the African Coast (almost)

Well it's Sunday and we are actually somewhat close to the coast of Africa altough we can't see it. In about 24 hours we will be docking in Maderia for our first time off the ship in a week.

This is an incredible crossing as the worse the seas have been is maybe 5 ft the other day. The ship has been sailing an almost perfect straight line from Ft. Lauderdale to Maderia since the calm seas have not caused the Capt to make any adjustments for passenger comfort.

There has been so much going on during the crossing. From the Princess Shcolarship @ Sea program with guest lecturers - finace expert who was the original voice of Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoons, guest artists doing talks on art as they are creating new paintings, a murder mystery writer, and others. Entertainment is non-stop.

Helen and I treated ourselves yesterday to "hot stone" massages. Talk about something relaxing! It's a cruise ship so pampering yourself is a required activity.

All our clients and friends on board are having a blast. Our first timer is so funny. She would like the Capt to just throw away the compass and continue sailing on the ocean-she absolutely loves it (wonder how she would feel with 20 ft seas?). What she doesn't realize is we will need land to fuel up and get more food - The eating contest is in full swing judging by some plates. People do take the "one meal from start to finish" concept as being a continuous event. Slow down folks there's still 10 days to go! Soon the 18 pax elevators will only hold 10 people . Time for a show, then wine tasting, and the Capt Circle party early evening. Another rough day just trying to do all we are choosing to do.

Oh yes, we finally saw another ship (a freighter) heading west yesterday. No icebergs though.

Ciao from the Atlantic about 400 nautical miles from Maderia.