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!