Saturday, April 11, 2009

Strategies for a Happier Cruise

We've been on several Carnival cruises and I've learned a few things through the years that I'd like to pass along. Some may not be new to you, but some may be.
  1. One thing we've always made sure to do is get to our port city at least one day early. This is especially important when your cruise leaves from Hawaii where incoming flights are limited. It's no fun to begin what should be a fun, relaxing vacation worrying about whether you'll miss the ship. There are hotels in every port city that cater to the cruise crowd.

  2. Always purchase travel insurance! I know people who skip this, but with three children and older parents, we always felt there were too many risks we weren't willing to take and cruises are expensive.

  3. Watch your fare! I know as a travel agent, we are there to serve you, our clients, but checking your fare is something you can do yourself. If the price of your cruise decreases after purchasing, call your travel agent and see what can be done. Maybe a refund or upgrade can be yours.

  4. Let your credit card company know that you'll be making purchases from out-of-the-ordinary places. Wouldn't you hate to be in some little boutique in St. Thomas, ready to purchase something only to find out there has been a hold placed on your credit card?

  5. This one goes without saying-stop your mail and newspaper, unless you have a kind neighbor.

  6. Like I mentioned in #2, I have older parents not in the best of health and it's nice to be able to keep in contact. One of the first things I do when boarding the ship is find the internet cafe and sign up for an account. That way I can send a daily email saying where we are, everyone is fine, and just make sure everything is OK at home. It's much cheaper than calling.

  7. Bring postcards from home. Before tips were automatically included in the price of your cruise, tips were given out on the last day before exiting the ship. If you're like me, you really become acquainted with the hard-working people who take care of your needs during your time onboard and you want to give them something. I would always include a hand-written thank you on my postcard along with their tip money. We still give a little something extra and I still like to write a thank you, maybe including something special they did that week that made our trip something we won't forget. The picture above was taken in the dining room on our first cruise on the Carnival Celebration when my kids were much younger.

I'm including a link to Linda Coffman's website, better known as the "Cruise Diva". I can almost guarantee that if you have a cruise question, she'll have an answer. If you've been thinking of booking a cruise, I would love to help you. Just drop me an email at

Until next time,


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Carnival Has a Deal For You!

If you've been sitting on the fence, wondering if you can afford to cruise this summer, here's your answer. With Carnival, yes you can. Book a summer cruise today, or sooner, and Carnival will load up your Sail and Sign card with up to $50 per guest up to a maximum of $100 on select 3-4 day cruises; up to $75 per guest up to a maximum of $150 per stateroom on select 5 day cruises; up to $120 per guest up to a maximum of $240 per stateroom on select 6, 7 and 8 day cruises. You can use the cash anywhere on board or even on a shore excursion, but here's the best part. At the end of the cruise, if you have any money left on your card, Carnival will give it to you in the form of a check delivered to your stateroom on the morning of debarkation. How great is that?

Carnival Destiny, leaving from Miami on 6/11/09 for five days with stops in Key West and Cozumel. For a balcony stateroom you could pay approximately $680 per person for a double room including all taxes, fees and gratituties. On top of that, each person would get $75 on their Sail and Sign card.

This is just one ship and one itinerary, but there are many more available. If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, I'd like to help you. Contact me at and together we can find the best deal on a fun itinerary.

Until next time,

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Travel Insurance--Why You Need Some

I recently booked some friends on a cruise leaving from Hawaii. Unfortunately, they weren't on it. Why you ask? There were a number of reasons, none of which were their fault. They left Kansas City on time but the plane developed engine problems and had to come back. I received a frantic plea of help as they were desperately attempting to get to Honolulu on time before their ship left the port without them. Let me point out their first mistake-flying into port on the day your ship leaves. This is never a good idea, but in an effort to save some bucks, lots of travelers do this. Their second mistake was not buying travel insurance, which according to the information below, would have helped them financially. They would have still missed their ship, but it wouldn't have hurt quite so bad.

Missed Connection: Covers missed Cruise or Trip departures which result from cancellation or delay (for three or more hours) of all regularly scheduled airline flights due to any delay of Your Common Carrier (Including inclement Weather). Maximum benefits of up to the amount shown on the Schedule of Coverage and Services are provided to cover additional transportation expenses needed for You to join the departed Cruise or Trip, reasonable accommodations, and meal expenses and non-refundable payments for the unused portion of Your Cruise or Trip.

Travel insurance is pretty cheap when compared to the entire cost of your vacation. I wouldn't travel without it.

Until next time,


Friday, February 27, 2009

Spring Break Travel

The spring equinox is almost here. That glorious time of the year that finds my cats impatiently waiting for meals not found on the menu inside the house. What about you? Are you thinking travel? If you are, you're definitely not alone. I spent a little time today rounding up some specials on a variety of travel packages. Maybe one sounds good to you.

Choose the Gran Caribe Real Cancun and save up to 40% on your vacation package plus up to two kids stay free. Just book by March 29th. Your kids will love the new Oki Splash Water Park, complete with pirate ship, castle and water canons. For the teens and tweens, they can hang out at a club designed especially for them, the new T-zone. This United Vacations package includes:
  • Roundtrip flight, including any fuel surcharges.
  • Hotel accommodations
  • Roundtrip airport/hotel transportation
  • 24 hour customer service

Have Disney on your mind? You’re in luck! Book your vacation package including Flight + Hotel + Magic Your Way Ticket and get up to 3 nights FREE at the Walt Disney World® Resort and up to 3 days FREE on your Magic Your Way Ticket! Plus, with travel between 1/4 – 3/29/09 receive a $200 Disney Gift Card!

I've said it previously, but I don't mind saying it again-Florida is a great place to vacation, especially for younger kids. You could stay in a reasonably priced hotel/condo right on the beach with a pool and be happy and content for days. Florida is where my children first discovered the ocean, so maybe I'm just partial to this part of the U.S.

I would love the opportunity to help you plan a spring getaway. Contact me with your own personal wish list and I'll do my best to fulfill it. It costs you absolutely nothing and I might be able to find you a great deal.

Until next time,


Monday, February 9, 2009

Passports Not Always Needed

The decision about my family's vacation for this year has finally been made. After carefully considering our needs which are 1) beautiful beaches; 2) all-inclusive (there are 5 of us); nearness to a city or town (We like to explore plus there are several of us who feel the need to occasionally hang out with others their own age.)

Gran Porto Real in Playa del Carmen was the perfect fit. I did quite a bit of research and found a package on sale. So now we are all looking forward to a relaxing getaway where hopefully, we can hang out together as a family without the many distractions that always seem to get in the way at home. One thing we won't have to do is get our passports, because we did that last year. Spreading the cost of five passports out over several months was pretty smart of me. But what if you don't have passports? Does that mean you have to stay close to home? Absolutely not!

The passport issue has been in the news quite a bit the last few years and many still find it confusing. Check here for the most up-to-date information.

The bad news is that Mexico and most of the Caribbean is out of bounds for those who choose to remain passport-free. But don't lose hope if you're determined to get out of town to an exotic beach. How about the US Virgin Islands- St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. The islands are located in the eastern Caribbean about 1,100 miles southeast of Miami. Temperatures range from a mild 77 degrees in the winter to 83 degrees in summer.

You'll sense a Danish influence on St. Croix with towns named Frederiksted and Christiansted where you'll find quaint shops in pastel-colored buildings. The majority of St. John is a national park. Gorgeous beaches, hiking, camping and much more await visitors to this island. St. Thomas is the most visited cruise ship port in the Caribbean. In downtown Charlotte Amalie you'll find dining, nightlife, duty-free shopping and much more.

St. Thomas boasts one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. As the most visited port in the Caribbean, downtown Charlotte Amalie offers elegant dining, exciting nightlife, duty-free shopping and even submarine rides. Though it's full of energy, especially in Charlotte Amalie, this island also possesses numerous sublime natural splendors, such as stunning views of the Caribbean from 1,500 feet above sea level. Did I mention beaches? There are some gorgeous beaches on the island.

Two thirds of St. John is a U.S. national park. It's also the smallest of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Those who frequent the island probably do so because of the beautiful beaches to be found there. There is also a ferry service available so you can stay at one island and travel to the others.

St. Croix is one of the top ten eco-friendy destinations worldwide. There's so much available on this island, from touring historic sites, nightlife, scuba diving and of course, great beaches. Take a look at this webcam located at Rumrunners, a local restaurant.

Another choice for those without a passport is Puerto Rico. I've only visited the island once and that was while on a cruise. But what I most remember is friendly people and tiny European-looking cobblestone streets lined with small, expensive shops. We were desperately trying to get to El Morro, a fortress located on the tip of Old San Juan built to protect the town from attack by sea. Learning that the quickest way to get there was by a public bus, we set off. Residents quickly gave us directions relayed through my 8th grader's small vocabulary picked up in Spanish class. While we didn't get to the fort in time, we did meet lots of people along the way and left the city later that night with a very good feeling about the people of San Juan.
One way I like to research different locations is through forums, connecting with other travelers who have been where you want to go. The Caribbean Travel Forum is a massive website offering multitudes of information helpful to anyone planning a trip to this part of the world. Deciding where to spend your vacation dollars is always a big decision, but especially so now. Please choose carefully and I can't stress it enough, purchase travel insurance. I would love to help anyone with their vacation plans. Send me an email at

Until next time,


Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Funny Honeymoon Story

My love affair with travel began late in my life-on my honeymoon during a trip to Puerto Vallarta. Until then, I had never been on a plane or ventured close to an ocean. Although we have never gone back for another visit, I know the city has changed and grown since 1983. There is one event from that long ago trip that I can still recall almost as if it happened yesterday.
It happened the day before we were scheduled to return home. We'd had a great time touring the city, eating and shopping. We even had a taxi driver take us to his home to meet his wife and newborn baby. That's another memory I'll never forget. On this particular day, we were laying out by the pool when a tour guide that we had gone out with several times that week came by. He was heading up to a restaurant in the mountains and wondered if anyone wanted to join him. We went along with several other couples. The drive took quite awhile as we slowly drove up a twisty, curvy road, farther than we'd ever traveled that week, but he promised it would be worth it. Soon we arrived at an open air restaurant that was reached by climbing down a long staircase. Everyone sat down, looking at menus and just enjoying the atmosphere.

All of a sudden, we spied a young boy riding down the stairs on horseback followed by a dog. He had what appeared to be a clean, men's handkerchief tied around his mouth, looking much like young boys do when pretending to be cowboys. In his hand he carried a long stick with some type of knife attached to the end with masking tape. He slowly began walking around the restaurant without causing much of a stir among the employees and there were not many guests yet. Now, what do you think was running through our minds at this time? Were we frightened? Screaming? Crawling under the tables while clutching our valuables? No, remember this is 1983 and we were Americans. Obviously, this was a SHOW, staged for our viewing enjoyment. We continued this line of thinking until the "bandito" came our way and demanded our purses, cameras and any other valuables he thought we'd give up to him. Then, he slowly turned around and went out the way he came, his faithful dog still following behind him.

You're probably thinking we all jumped up and chased after him, right? He didn't have a gun and we clearly outnumbered him. No, we all sat there like stooges, waiting for him to return with our valuables, because this was a SHOW. As you can imagine, this wasn't a show and we never saw any of our things again. Every picture we'd taken on that trip was taken along with our camera. We did what we thought we should do when something like this happens. There was some type of visitor's office in the town, but nobody spoke English. Luckily, we were able to get a few pictures from others who had been with us that week and I'm grateful for that. The best thing about this event was that it made for a good story. People would laugh until their eyes watered when hearing this story. I mean, how could we have been so stupid?

The lesson we learned from this is that when you leave the U.S., the rules change. In fact, there might not be rules. Always be careful, constantly looking for a young boy (guess he'd be an old guy by now) riding on horseback, followed by an old dog while holding a long stick.

Until next time,

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Packing Tips

How would you describe your packing style? One of our frequent travel buddies likes to be prepared for anything. Rather than packing just enough outfits needed for a 7 day cruise, she prefers to pack enough to provide her with choices. Maybe she won't feel like wearing a particular outfit she packed for the second formal night of a cruise, so she packs several. Of course, this means more shoes and purses to complete those outfits. I'm more of a bare-bones packer. My goal, which at the moment hasn't been met, is to fit everything I need for a 7 day cruise into one suitcase. Since I don't wear dresses or skirts, my choices are comprised of slacks and various tops. I make sure that each choice can be worn with the same pair of dressy shoes, bringing my shoe wardrobe up to three for the entire voyage. Of course I must remind you that I am the one who once left several outfits destined for the dining room at home in my closet. Thank goodness they weren't mine!

Our first cruise departed from New Orleans and since we'd never been there, we arrived two days early. Add to that the drive from Kansas City, our clothes spent approximately three to four days packed like sardines in our suitcases. Thanks to my shrewd packing skills, there was not a wrinkle to be found when they were unpacked onboard Carnival's Celebration.

Everyone has their own method for packing clothes to yield the fewest wrinkles and I'm no different. Mine involves a multitude of dry cleaning bags which we got for free from our local cleaners. For wrinkle-free clothes, follow these steps:
  1. Place all blouses/shirts/pants/skirts on hangers.
  2. Put one to two hangers of clothing inside each dry cleaning bag.
  3. Begin laying these items in your suitcase. Stretch them completely out without folding in the middle.
  4. After filling approximately half of the suitcase in this way, fill it up the rest of the way with folded/rolled clothes, leaving a little room at the top.
  5. Fold the bottom half of the clothing in the dry cleaner bags over the folded clothes, forming a clothing sandwich.

I've also heard that using tissue paper works but I've never tried it. You'll find a multitude of packing methods on the web, in case you don't care for mine. As a public service, I've provided links so you can check them out for yourself. Mine are really the best though. Really.

One Bag
Create a custom packing list for any journey
Cruise Vacation Packing List
The Cruise Diva packing list
Cruise Clues Packing List

This should keep you busy for awhile. If you need some assistance planning this trip, I'm available. That sort of makes me sound like the last girl standing on the girl's side of the gym, waiting for someone to ask her to dance. That's OK, I can live with that.

Until next time,