Sunday, November 3, 2013

Grand Princess Review - 15 Day Hawaii Cruise Round Trip from San Francisco, CA


This is my review of the 15 Day Hawaii Cruise aboard Princess Cruise Lines aboard the Grand Princess round trip from San Francisco, CA.

This was our 11th cruise.  Princess Cruise Lines holds a special place in our hearts as they were our very first cruise in 1999 and we've always enjoyed the service they afford us. When I became an agent, one of the first certification programs I took was with Princess Cruises.  Upon completion of the training, I was certified as a Commodore Level agent.  As such, I was awarded one graduation cruise. Although it has been at least three years, we finally chose our graduation cruise and this was it.



The Ship
Grand Princess at anchor in Mau'i, Hawaii


The Grand Princess was built in 1998 at the Fincantieri ship yards in Italy. Generally considered the first of what are now known as "mega ships", she was the largest cruise ship in the world when she was launched. She is still a large ship, but nowhere near the largest ship anymore, but after her substantial dry-dock refurbishment in 2012, she is in excellent shape.
Since our last Princess cruise in 2008 we have been on Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Holland America Lines. All of them were pleasant cruises, but sailing with Princess again has reaffirmed our affinity for them and reestablished them as our personal favorite line.

The Grand Princess is very well designed.  Our stateroom was forward on the Lido deck which is the same deck with the swimming pools and the Horizon Court buffet as well as access to the Movies Under the Stars screen.  The way this deck runs from front to back, you get the open air pool, then the covered pool, then the Horizon Court buffet and then back to the fantail of the ship with an easy stair down to the aft adult pool.  It was nice that even in inclement weather, you could walk from front to back without getting rained on as the sides are covered the whole way.


The Piazza area is also outstanding. Complimentary pizza at Alfredo's pizzeria, complimentary breakfast items, pastries, lunch salads, soup and sandwiches are available at the International Cafe as well. We enjoyed this area very much as they have many fun activities happening in the central atrium.

Aft pool on deck 13 (adults only)

They have compartmentalized the ship so that you never feel lost. Never too far from an elevator and the crew truly live up to their mantra to treat you like an honored guest. Coffee and juice service at the buffet was consistently attentive in addition to the excellent wait staff in the dining rooms.
Our Itinerary



This itinerary is heavy with at sea days. This works for my wife and I as we really feel cruising is about the ship at least as much as the itinerary and it is helpful that neither of us suffers from sea sickness. We felt this was a pretty smooth cruise. There was occasional movement, but my wife calls it a big cradle when we sleep.  We filled our time with reading, trivia, shows, dining, shopping and, of course, relaxation.

The weather was warm. 85 degrees and 81% humidity takes a little getting used to, but it never rained on us and we think this might have been the fastest 2 weeks ever. 
The embarkation in San Francisco was very quick and easy. Disembarkation took awhile due to a new customs procedure, but once off the ship, getting our luggage and getting out of the port took all of 5 minutes.
Highlight
During the Captain's Circle cocktail party, we won a bottle of champagne when they drew our cabin number!  We also had excellent table mates, which really makes for an enjoyable trip when you have chosen the traditional dining.  The best part of this trip was just being onboard this fine ship.Lowlight
The two most popular excursion for this cruise are 1) Visiting the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor and 2) Visiting Volcanoes National Park on the big island. Both of these were unavailable during this cruise because of the Federal Government Shutdown. Really bad timing for these folks.


The Recap

We are fans of Princess Cruises and this trip only enhanced that view. If you don't mind days at sea, this trip is for you. 


Our Ratings (* = poor, **=passable, ***=fair, ****=good and  *****=excellent)


Cabin **** - Well laid out, functional, plenty of storage


Bed *** -  A little firmer than we are used to, but no problem sleeping


Steward **** - Our steward serviced our stateroom well, but no towel animals.


Service ***** - Service was good to excellent everywhere. The Horizon Court Buffet had plenty of staff to serve coffee and juice and take away your plates. The dining room staff were super attentive, generous and efficient. Traditional dining is still our favorite choice.


Activities **** - With the help of the Princess Patter daily newsletter, we were able to plan our days around the activities we liked. Morning and afternoon trivia, comedy shows, Ukelele lessons, movies under the starts, movies in the theater and great quiet places to read and relax as well as 4 swimming pool choices kept us satisfied.

If you'd like to discuss taking a cruise or would like more details, please visit us at NorCalCruises.com or give us a call at (877)622-7784.


Our video of this trip is available at youtube:  http://youtu.be/v8zj-bE3R6I

Thank You and Happy Cruising!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Press Release: SNG CERTIFIED ACCESSIBLE TRAVEL ADVOCATE



               




FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

LOCAL TRAVEL PROFESSIONAL PATRICK THOMPSON BECOMES AN SNG CERTIFIED ACCESSIBLE TRAVEL ADVOCATETM

Fort Lauderdale, FL – May 2013 – Patrick Thompson, travel agent with CruiseOne – Roseville, CA, recently received certification from Special Needs Group, Inc. (www.specialneedsgroup.com), a global provider of special needs equipment for the travel industry, to specialize in special needs/accessible travel. To earn the distinction, Thompson participated in Special Needs Group’s in-depth online 3 module certification program.

Through the program, agents gain an understanding of the special needs/accessible travel market. They learn about the best equipment to rent for special needs travel, ways to market special needs/accessible travel, and more.

Nationwide, one in seven persons has some form of disability, and one in five families is touched. By specializing in special needs/accessible travel, Thompson has the ability to help this large percentage of the population travel in an enjoyable, safe and efficient manner.

Thompson has worked as a travel agent for four years, specializing in Cruises and Resorts. An experienced cruiser, he is considered a specialist on Alaskan cruises and West Coast departures.

“Through Special Needs’ courses, I not only learned how to assist individuals with special needs to enjoy travel, but I found some very valuable new ways to serve the needs of all of my clients,” said Thompson. “The population, as well as the travel industry itself, has undergone major changes in the past few years. By completing this program, I have the ability to stay on the cutting edge of these changes, and create opportunities for my clients.”

To book a vacation, whether it involves special needs individuals or others, contact Thompson at (877)622-7784 or pthompson@cruiseone.com. For more information about Special Needs Group’s special needs certification program, call 1-800-513-4515.

About Special Needs Group, Inc.
Special Needs Group, Inc. is the leading global provider of wheelchair rentals, scooter rentals, oxygen rentals and other special needs equipment rentals. It also offers a broad range of special needs equipment for purchase. Recommended by the world's major cruise lines for superior service and value, Special Needs Group also services guests visiting hotels, resorts, theme parks and convention centers.

Special Needs Group is the industry's only total special needs travel solution. It is located at 302 NW 1st Street, Dania Beach, FL 33004. For more information, visit www.specialneedsgroup.com or call 1-800-513-4515.

Special Needs Group Media Contact:

Vanessa McGovern
Special Needs Group, Inc.
Ph: 954-585-0575


Sunday, February 10, 2013


4 Night Mexican Cruise -
Round Trip from Long Beach, CA aboard the Carnival Inspiration

We just got back from our 4 night cruise aboard the Carnival Inspiration. This was our tenth cruise and we took it to get a quick getaway and to experience it first hand so we had direct knowledge to provide to our clients.

Pre Cruise

 We drove down Interstate 5 from Roseville, CA to Long Beach, CA. This is about a 6 and a half hour drive and we didn't have bad traffic at all. We stopped for gas and breakfast at the Apricot Tree restaurant in Firebaugh which is about 2 and a half hours down the road. It's a touristy kind of place with a sizable gift shop and is decorated by vintage lunchboxes and Thermoses all over.  Stopping here has become a tradition for us that we picked up when the kids were young and we drove down to Disneyland.

The Ship
The Carnival Inspiration anchored at Santa Catalina, CA


The Carnival Inspiration is an older ship that is about 17 years old as of this posting. It doesn't have the balconies available that the newer ships have and we found the layout of the ship to be rather chopped up and a little bit difficult to navigate. For instance, deck 8 has the two main dining rooms but if you want to go from the Mardi Gras dining room toward the front of the ship to the Carnivale dining room at the rear, you have to either go up to deck 9 or down to deck 7 because the Galley blocks your progress to the back of the ship.

This is not a quiet ship.  From the noises in our stateroom and restroom to nearly all public spaces, you have to deal with the noise.  If you would like to find a nice quiet spot to read a book, you will likely need to stay in your stateroom.  We walked the promenade deck from front to back looking for a relaxing spot to read. Every lounge had either canned music playing or some type of activity. Even the library was filled with people playing board games. The "Serenity Deck" at the  back of the ship was anything but serene.  The first issue is that it is directly under the buffet restaurant at the rear of the ship and all of the restaurant noise filters down. The second issue is that the spa was full of folks who were drinking and having a good time. This party atmosphere is on par for a Carnival cruise, but the adults only so called Serenity deck just doesn't cut it as compared to other serenity areas that we have seen on other cruise lines.

Our cabin was an interior cabin number U106 on the Upper deck. It is what I would call a sideways configuration. We found the mattresses to be comfortable and the bedding was nice. Unfortunately, in this type of cabin, when you have the beds configured into a King, most of the bed does not have a headboard. The side that does have the closet serving as a partial headboard has a wall hung telephone just over your head. The receiver got knocked off several times. The size of the room is fine compared to other rooms we've had, but the configuration is just a bit wonky for sleeping.

Another irksome feature of the ship was the elevators. They are confusing.  Not only do some elevators not go to several of the upper decks, they are labelled funny.  On the outside of the elevator you will not see the floor numbers, you will see letters like R, M, U, E, A, P, L, V, S.  These stand for names of the decks like Riviera, Main, Upper, Empress, Atlantic, Promenade, Lido, Verandah, Sports, etc. However, once inside the elevator you have standard floor numbers, 6, 7, 8, etc.  This makes it difficult to know which button to push. You will need to study the map outside the elevator before you enter.

Our Itinerary

Carnival Inspiration - 4-Night Baja Mexico, Los Angeles R/TFebruary 4, 2013
DayPort of CallArriveDepart
MonFeb 4
Los Angeles, California
Embark - Times subject to change
----5:30 PM
TueFeb 5
Catalina Island, California
7:30 AM4:30 PM
WedFeb 6
Ensenada, Mexico
9:00 AM10:00 PM
ThuFeb 7
At Sea
--------
FriFeb 8
Los Angeles, California
Disembark - Times subject to change
8:00 AM----

We were hoping for a sunny vacation, but we generally had hazy overcast and cool. While in Ensenada, we were able to enjoy the sun but the rest of the trip kept us on the inside.


Downtown Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, CA


We took the tender to shore at Catalina Island and we found this to be a fun highlight of the cruise. Lots of restaurants and bars as well as shops within walking distance. You can get a Catalina Limo (golf cart) to explore the town or perhaps an electric bicycle is up your alley. Para-sailing  kayaking or taking  a submarine tour are all options available. Sea Lions, otters, seals, dolphins and sea gulls abound. Whether you just want to site see by foot or do something active, Catalina has a lot to offer. 





Having been to Ensenada before, we were not interested in a shore excursion, but they are available. ATV rentals, horseback riding and a visit to La Boufadora are popular. Also popular is taking a bus into town for shopping and a visit to Papas & Beer. Several passengers had Papas & Beer bumper stickers on their body parts after our visit to Ensenada. 

The Recap

In general, this cruise was not our cup of tea. If you want a loud party filled short getaway and you are within driving distance to Los Angeles, then this cruise might be for you. It just doesn't tick the boxes for a relaxing and rejuvenating trip for our style.  That is the beauty of cruising. We have friends and clients who would likely enjoy this this trip, but I feel that most experienced cruisers would prefer something else.

Our Ratings 
(* = poor, **=passable, ***=fair, ****=good and  *****=excellent)

Cabin ** -  Weird layout and noisy. The amount of space was OK.

Bed **** - Comfortable mattresses, nice bedding. Wish it could be against the wall for a headboard.

Steward ***** - Our steward was friendly and our cabin was serviced well.

Service ** - Aside from our room steward who was very friendly. and the waitress in the main dining room on the first night,  we found most of the staff to be indifferent. In the bars we were often ignored and rarely did we feel service with a smile. Compared to other cruises we have been on, the service was definitely lacking. 

Food *** - There was generally a lack of variety in the buffet. The fish preparations were nearly always the same despite being called something different.  While edible, it did not inspire us. We will say the the southern fried chicken was surprisingly good, even at the buffet. The poolside grill was decent, but the line at the Mongolian wok was always long.

Activities *** - This cruise does offer something to do most of the time. Trivia, art auctions, production shows, photos, partying, casino and activities on the Lido deck should be enough to keep you occupied if you need something to do. The in-room television programming is lackluster at best.

You can see our video of this cruise at YouTube - Click Here.

If you'd like to discuss taking a cruise or would like more details, please visit us at NorCalCruises.com or give us a call at (877)622-7784.

Thank You and Happy Cruising!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Alaskan Cruise Review - MS Westerdam

Cruise Review

7 Day Alaskan Cruise -
Round Trip from Seattle, WA aboard the MS Westerdam

We recently returned from our 7 day Alaskan Cruise aboard the Holland America Lines ship MS Westerdam. This was our fifth Alaskan cruise but there were still a couple of firsts for us. It was our first cruise with Holland America Lines, our first visit to Sitka, AK and our first voyage into Glacier Bay National Park.


Pre Cruise


Our View from Room 3161 at the Westin, Seattle
 We flew from Sacramento to Seattle a Day before the cruise and stayed at the Westin, Seattle. The Westin is located downtown in the hotel zone of Seattle and is a nice location in the heart of the city.  From here we were within walking distance to Pike's Place market, the Westlake mall where the monorail for the space needle starts and walk around the downtown plaza.  We enjoyed the Coldwater Restaurant in the hotel and especially liked the blueberry, orange and granola pancakes for breakfast. The service there was very nice and the bed was very comfortable.  Our view of downtown was terrific.  

The Ship

MS Westerdam at anchor in Sitka, AK

In keeping with Holland America Lines' tradition, the MS Westerdam is a mid-sized ship. Built in 2004 at the Fincantieri ship yards in Venice, she holds about 1900 passengers and we found her to be generally easy to get around.  The style of the interior is classic as is the overall feeling on board. It is a traditional atmosphere with all of the normal accouterments.  Compared to other lines, she has limited dining options, but the quality of the food onboard was as good as any we have experienced. They do a superior job with both beef and fish.

Forward Lido Pool wth Roof Closed

One of the nicest feature of the Westerdam is that the forward pool on the Lido deck has a retractable glass roof. As shown above, the roof is closed as you would expect for an Alaskan cruise.  Whenever it is raining or cold, the roof is closed providing a nice area for swimming, outdoor buffets and events like ice carving.

Panoramic picture of the Crows Nest Bar
Another nice feature that we enjoy is when a ship has a forward facing lounge.  The Westerdam features the Crows Nest on Deck 10 with lots of chairs, including recliners, that you can use to take in the view and enjoy a beverage, entertainment or take a dancing lesson or play trivia.

Our Itinerary

Holland America Line
Westerdam
7-Night Alaskan Explorer, Seattle R/T
Day Date Port Arv Dep
Sat 06/09/12 Seattle, Washington - Embark - Times subject to change   04:00 PM
Sun 06/10/12 At Sea    
Mon 06/11/12 Juneau, Alaska 01:00 PM 10:00 PM
Tue 06/12/12 Cruise Glacier Bay    
Wed 06/13/12 Sitka, Alaska 07:00 AM 03:00 PM
Thu 06/14/12 Ketchikan, Alaska 07:00 AM 01:00 PM
Fri 06/15/12 Victoria, British Columbia 06:00 PM 11:59 PM
Sat 06/16/12 Seattle, Washington - Disembark - Times subject to change 07:00 AM  


As with most Alaska cruises, we had a combination of drizzle and sunshine during our cruise. We were very fortunate during our cruise day in Glacier Bay to have a wonderful sunshine day to take in the sights and get some gorgeous pictures.  As we cruised through the bay, we saw some Kayakers and a couple of tour boats, but The Marjerie Glacier was the highlight of the day. This 21 mile long tidewater glacier was spectacular with interesting formations and calving activity. Gleaming white and blue in the sunshine, we were able to view it from our balcony as we sat still in the bay for about an hour.

A part of the Marjerie Glacier - Looks like a Native American  Woman

Having been to the other ports before, we decided just to go into town and do some shopping.  In Juneau, it was pretty crowded as there were four ships in port.  The Golden Princess was with us for much of our trip, from the same departure to the other ports (except Sitka and Glacier Bay). Also in port was the Westerdam's sister ship the Oosterdam and the Celebrity Infinity.  This makes for a busy port and getting around the stores was an exercise in patience.

Ketchikan is one of our favorite ports.  As we had done before, we took in the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show which we always enjoy and we did a little bit of shopping as well.  In Ketchikan we also had three other ships in port. The same as Juneau except the Sapphire Princess was there instead of the Celebrity Ship.  All in all, it was terriffic.

Highlight
We met and dined with many friendly and interesting people from all over the country. It is one of the best parts of the "as you wish" dining program. One highlight in particular was during our meal on Tuesday, after the glacier viewing.  We were seated at a rearward facing table where we could view the wake of the ship with a family of three from Walnut Creek, Ca. who were on their first cruise.  They had a daughter (probably about 12 years old) with them.  As we were enjoying our appetizers we spotted a humpback whale. He gave us a nice show with a spouting and tail shot.  This was followed several times by pods of porpoises to the left and the right of the wake. They appeared several times.  This was followed by another whale sighting and finally as the meal wrapped up, there was a Rainbow that appeared to start on the ocean right in our wake.  The father said "We definitely don't get this during dinner a home".

The Recap


All in all we really enjoyed this trip.  The ship was nice and quite manageable, the itinerary delivered the promise of a spectacular view of Alaska and we would recommend this cruise.

Our Ratings 
(* = poor, **=passable, ***=fair, ****=good and  *****=excellent)

Cabin **** - Well laid out, functional, plenty of storage

Bed *** - We felt it was too firm and we both tossed & turned

Steward ***** - Our steward was friendly and our cabin was spotless and serviced well

Service **** - Service was hit and miss. The service in the Crow's Nest was often non-existent and we felt ignored. The service in the Ocean Bar at Happy Hour was excellent every time. The Service in the lower dining room ranged from excellent to poor. One night we were never offered drinks, the dessert came way before the coffee and our waiter just seemed to be over his head. On other nights, we could not have asked for anything more.

Activities *** - We felt that the scheduling of some of the activies (like Trivia) were done at the wrong times like 6:00pm during the start of the dinner hour.  We usually like to play, but it didn't happen often enough and  always at inconvenient times.  We took in the ventriloquist show on the last day starring Kevin Johnson, and he was terriffic and funny.  We don't go in for the art auctions much and one drawback to going through Deck 3 was the need to go through the middle of a couple of stores where there was always some kind of loud event, raffle drawing or sales pitch.  We opted to go to Deck 2 whenever possible.

If you'd like to discuss taking a cruise or would like more details, please visit us at NorCalCruises.com or give us a call at (877)622-7784.

Thank You and Happy Cruising!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Travel Agents, Use Me (Don't Abuse Me)

Once in awhile you have to step back and start at square one. The longer you are part of an industry, the more you forget about the basic concepts that you once had to learn.

For instance: I helped a nice young woman with a cruise vacation recently. I found the cruise, booked her on it, gave her a lot of information about being a first-time cruiser, then I was taken aback after everything was done when she asked "And how much is your fee?" When I informed her that my service is free to her - that I work off of a commission from the Cruise Line or Land Vendor - her eyes got big and said "Wow! I was dreading your fee."

What is interesting to me about this conversation is that she works for a large insurance broker which is very similar in that they also get paid by commission from the insurance companies. In the travel industry as in the insurance industry, you get the same direct prices for your purchase but you get the added benefit of personalized service and the ability to compare different products and not just one.

Her follow up question was "Why would I not use you for travel if you don't cost me anything?"

I just smiled and said "Exactly!"

Back to Basics: Why Use A Travel Agent?

1. We are your advocate
2. We offer you more and better choices
3. We give you personalized service
4. We generally don't charge you a fee
5. We are your one point of contact
6. We have the experience to ask the right questions

1. As your advocate, we are interested in providing you with the best possible service and we will take care of any issues that may come up. We will know details that you may not think of when you book your vacation. We spend hours upon hours per year in training and taking refresher courses so we know all of the latest changes that could affect your vacation experience. We get to know your likes and dislikes and your preferences. We strive to take the worry out of booking your vacations.

2. Travel agents have access to resources that the vendor won't tell you about. For instance, if you visit a cruise line or land vendor website, you will get some great information that is presented to you in the best possible light. You will only get information about that particular product. You will be pressured into buying that product. If you use a travel agent, you will get the information you need to make an informed decision and alternative choices that may be better suited to your desires. We know about our products and are willing to do the research to make sure you are informed about the details.

3. We give the personal service you deserve. We are your one point of contact and so you know who to talk to before, during and after your vacation. Even if you know exactly the vacation you want, by using a travel agent, you will get choices that you may not even know are available. Things like better travel protection insurance or alternative trips and excursions that won't be offered to you by the vendor directly.

4. We are paid by commission from the vendor directly. The vendor is not allowed to give you a better price than we can get for you and we are free to look for competitive alternatives without sacrifice. Some agents will charge a service fee for handling air fares. We are in business to make a living and airlines do not pay commission. Individual agents will set their own policy on this, but I do not charge for air if it is associated with a vacation package. It is important to make sure the air schedule matches your cruise departure and arrival and mistakes can easily be made and can cost you big penalties if you need to make a change. Use an agent and have a second set of eyes looking for potential pitfalls in your air plan. Travel agents also have access to air consolidators that may save you thousands of dollars versus the published airline rates. Would you pay $20 to save $1,000? Be sure to discuss whether a service fee is charged by your agent and if there is, you may still be getting a great deal that you may not otherwise have access to.

5. We are your one point of contact. You can call us about all aspects of your trip. You don't get a call center manned by an hourly employee working from a script. You get a knowledgeable professional who can answer your questions or work as a liaison to get the information you need. If I don't know the answer immediately, I will do the research to get you the accurate answer to help you make an informed decision.

6. We can translate your questions and examine the peripheral issues around your questions that can really affect your trip. You may have found a great rate on a room on a ship or a resort, but maybe you don't know that you are right next to a noisy elevator or directly under the loudest nightclub. Maybe you have mobility issues and you'd like to be near the elevator or have easy access to the dining room. We can see the big picture and guide you to the most perfect accommodations available.

Wrap Up
Use us, but don't abuse us. I've been communicating with other travel agents who have noticed a disturbing trend as of late. Customers are calling with question after question about a cruise line, cabins, what to expect on cruises, and many many other questions by phone and email. The agent does the research and gets back to the customer every time and spending hours on service. Then the client goes and books online at a travel mega-site or directly with the vendor. Whether they realize it or not, the agent gets nothing for all of their work. The customer thinks they are working the system and often they end up getting a worse deal than the agent would have been able to get if given the opportunity to look at the offer and see the fine print.

It is true that a particular agency (including mine) may have a special group deal that gets you a bonus bottle of wine or a small onboard credit, but give your agent a chance to complete your booking. Remember, knowledge is power and haste makes waste. Don't waste your time or your agent's by using their services and then making a hasty decision to book direct with the vendor or mega-site. The reps at the vendor's call center or the website are designed to put pressure on you with wording that may seem appealing and urgent, but that is their job. Let your agent work for you and you will be rewarded with the best possible vacation value.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cruises: Why You Need a Cruise Specialist

I've been asked this question a couple of times: Why should I use you as my cruise travel agent?

Fair question. In this internet driven world, people have the ability to go directly to the cruise lines and book their own cruises or they can go to one of the big travel sites and look up almost any cruise and book it. So why would you need a cruise specialist?

There are many great answers to the question. I'll list them here, but it is up to you to decide which is most important to you.

1. Expert Knowledge with Personalized Service
Most folks can probably name 5 or 6 cruise lines off the top of their head. The fact is that there are dozens of cruise lines, hundreds of ships and thousands of itineraries to choose every year. From short 2 or 3 day getaways to 6 month world cruises. From budget friendly contemporary cruise lines to all-inclusive luxury brands, private yachts and specialized sailings there is a seemingly unlimited variety of options out there. Why limit yourself to just one brand? When you invest in your vacation, why not get out of it what you really want. As your personal independent cruise specialist, we can help you navigate your way to the perfect cruise vacation.

2. Great Rates & Better Service
When you work with your CruiseOne specialist, you have access to one of the largest cruise networks in the country. No matter where you live, we can work with anyone in the country to book just about any cruise anywhere on any ship. I'm located in Northern California, but our clients come from everywhere in this country. Not only do we get direct cruise-line pricing live from the cruise lines, but we have a great relationship as a premier partner to many of the leading lines. When you choose to work with me, I will personally handle your vacation. Especially important for first time cruisers, I will ask the questions that you may not know to think of and follow up on any issue that may come up. We also offer CruiseOne's exclusive price and satisfaction guarantee. You are assured of getting more choices and options that will not be available directly from the cruise line. From travel protection coverage to shore excursions, pre and post-cruise hotel stays and researching your air transportation options, you can be sure that we will work personally with you to get the best vacation you've ever had.

3. To web or not to web?
If you want to research cruises and see what is available online, we offer an industry leading cutting edge cruise database that constantly being enhanced. Top travel sites actually use our database system. So feel free to point and click your way to the vacation of your dreams. Once you choose your cruise, however, you don't deal with an anonymous call center employee. You get our personal service and attention to detail to make sure your needs are met. What if you're not a web surfer? No problem! Just give us a call and we will handle your request from start to finish. When you choose us as your personal cruise specialist, we get to know you and your needs and will work hard to fulfill them.


Every cruise line and even every cruise ship has a personality and a focus all its own. Whether you'd like a classic traditional cruise experience or a newer style freeform adventure, you can count on us to give you the best options to suit your style.
One last note - if you're planning a romantic couples cruise, family vacation, family reunion, corporate event, a group of friends or even a full-ship charter, use your CruiseOne specialist to make sure you get the best service and amenities and take care of your special requests with excellent prices, but more importantly - excellent service.

Patrick Thompson
CruiseOne
(877)622-7784
pthompson@cruiseone.com

Sunday, June 20, 2010

How to Choose a Cruise

Did you know there are two dozen cruise lines, hundreds of ships and thousands of itineraries available each year for a cruise vacation? From 1-day cruises to nowhere to 6-month world cruises, there is something just right for you. With so many choices, how do you know which one to choose?

Let's take a look at some common and perhaps not so common ways to approach your cruise vacation and how to navigate your way to the perfect cruise.

Criteria:
Price - Itinerary - Destination - Onboard Experience - Staying Flexible

Price
I understand that this is a bottom-line world. Budgeting for your vacation is certainly an important step - but basing your entire choice on trying to find the cheapest cruise available could eliminate some excellent choices and short change your experience. Cruises are always a tremendous value because of their all-inclusive nature. A side by side comparison of nearly any cruise vacation versus a similar land vacation reveals the true value in a real dollars per day way that is pretty convincing.

Shorter is cheaper. One to five day cruises are obviously less expensive than longer cruises. Many first time cruisers will choose a shorter itinerary not just because of price, but to see if they like cruising at all. Concerns about possible motion sickness and being confined to a ship at sea are the primary concerns. However, the vast majority of first time cruisers become second time cruisers. It may be in your best interest as a budget conscious shopper to expand your criteria a bit. If you can drive to a port that takes 7-day cruises, you should consider eliminating the air fare to fly to a port that offers the shorter cruises. If you are flexible in your destination choice, you could get more days on board for less money and save the hassle and expense of flying.

Example: If you live in Baltimore, you can get a Bahamas cruise right from your home town and not have to fly to Florida. New York City, Galveston, New Orleans, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Port Canaveral, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle... and many other cruise ports are available that might be a drive port for you. Most ports offer special parking rates for cruise passengers and you can eliminate the air fare.

Stay Flexible: The price of most cruises fluctuate through the season. The difference in cost, even for a short cruise, could save you hundreds of dollars. If you have the ability to be flexible about when you take your cruse vacation, you could save significant dollars. Cruises have a high season and the cost goes up at that time. Generally it looks like a bell curve. Lower prices as the season starts, higher prices in the middle and then lower again toward the end. This is based on demand. This does not mean that the higher priced cruises are better. In fact, the opposite can be true. We like the 10-day round trip cruise from San Francisco to Alaska. The cruises start in late May and run through the end of August. The prices increase in July - but savvy cruisers know that July is the rainiest season in Alaska. If you want lower rates and better weather, you'll take an early to mid-June cruise or a late August cruise. You'll save money and get a better experience.

Itinerary
Aside from what time you go, the itinerary of the cruise is important. Do you want to be in port every day or do you like at-sea days? Is there enough time in each port to do what you want to do or is it going to be a struggle? These are important questions to ponder when looking at your cruise options. Let's consider the 7 Day Hawaii cruise I recently took. This cruise actually offers two overnight stays in port. One in Maui and one in Kauai. Instead of getting just 6 to 8 hours in port, you now have nearly a full day. This certainly opens up a lot of options and gives you a chance to plan and experience more in those ports. Many European cruises offer overnight stays or even two night stays in places like St. Petersburg Russia or Venice Italy. These types of stays give you a chance to experience much more of the rhythm of the local venue, night life and a less harried visit.

Personally, my wife and I like at-sea days. Cruising on the open ocean is the relaxing part of the cruise for us. We like to read out on our balcony or poolside. We enjoy the extra activities that the ship offers on those days and depending on the line, that is when you can experience a more formal night type of evening if you choose to. In contrast to the 7 day Hawaii cruise we took, we'd also be interested in the longer 14 day sailings that sail to Hawaii and then return back home. There are many at sea days going to the islands, less days in Hawaii and then more at sea days returning home. Our airfare would be greatly reduced (or eliminated) and we'd actually get a better cost per day based on that fact alone.

Destination
Destination is critical to some cruisers and almost a non-factor for others. If you've always wanted to visit Great Britain then you'll want to look at some cruises that are round trip from London and visit Ireland, Scotland and England. If your lifelong dream is to see the great Pyramids, then you're going to look at Holy Land cruises. If choosing a cruise by destination, you really want to open up your options and perhaps consider some lines that specialize in giving you that true experience rather than the main touristy ports.

For example, major cruise lines offer Mexico trips to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan & Puerto Vallarta. These ports have been built for tourists to enjoy the flavor of Mexico, but geared toward the traveler who wants the typical experiences that they've heard about. Whale watching, parasailing, dolphin encounters and city tours that show you the things that we've all seen on television. Depending on your personality and desires you might want to consider lesser known trips that offer a more in-depth look at the "real" Mexican culture with flexible itineraries that take you up the Baja coast from La Paz and the Sea of Cortes to experience a more authentic cultural experience - without sacrificing the service and quality you'd expect from a cruise vacation.

Tours with expedition ships to South America, Antarctica, Alaska and many other ports offer a unique opportunity to choose your experience as you go. These types of trips modify your itinerary to take advantage of the ever-changing opportunities that present themselves on nature's schedule and not on a pre-determined route.

On the other hand, cruise ships are marvels of modern-day engineering. They are floating five-star hotels and the ship itself can legitimately be considered a destination. Cruises to nowhere or short cruises to a not-so-exotic port can be heavenly. You are at sea getting served great food and enjoying the ocean. It is about the on board experience and the destination can be a secondary consideration. If you want to experience cruising and you don't know where to go, perhaps it doesn't really matter. Let your travel professional match you to a cruise line that will give you the level of service you need for an enjoyable vacation regardless of where you go.

The On Board Experience
All cruises include your cabin, meals & entertainment on board. Most ships have several included dining options from the main dining rooms to quick service grills to buffet style options. Also included is daily cabin steward services and free entertainment options from trivia games and contests to karaoke to production shows and movie theaters and countless other options ranging from ice-skating to water parks & pools to bowling and much more. Since you will be spending most of your time on board the ship, it is important to choose a cruise line and ship that fits your expectations and your personality.

Each cruise line has their own personality. Some are geared toward exemplary service at every level. Some are geared toward allowing the independent traveler to make up their own choices with a level of service that we'll call "less intrusive". This is where your travel professional and your cruise specialist become invaluable. When you search an internet site for cruises, you will see where and when the cruise sails and how much it costs, but you get very little in the way of cruise line personality. Not only do cruise lines differ in philosophy, but even ships within the line can vary greatly in regards to service and the customer experience.

Some cruise lines offer large mega-ships with the latest in innovative new activities. Some cruise lines offer a classic smaller ship experience with a focus on high-level service and more room per passenger and a private yacht feel. Some cruise lines offer both! Some cruise lines are very family oriented to give adults and children the best level of experience, even offering the opportunity for kids to sail absolutely free. Others are built from stem to stern for experienced travelers looking for a romantic getaway and a more luxury upscale experience.

The old adage "you get what you pay for" comes into play with cruises as well. Often the higher cost gives you some very exclusive benefits and a level of service that is hard to describe without using subjective terms such as luxurious, seamless, anticipatory, extravagant, sumptuous, unforgettable... you get the idea. Not only are these terms more idealistic than quantifiable, but until you have experienced them first hand, they remain elusive to describe.

Staying Flexible
If you can approach your cruise vacation with a wide-open mind and let your travel professional ask the right questions and develop your options, you may end up with the vacation of a lifetime that you never anticipated. When people ask me why they should use my services (or any travel agent) when they could just book it themselves at the cruise line or an online travel site, my reply is always customer service. What does this really mean? Not only does it mean we will take care of the details and make sure we ask the questions that you may not think to ask of the cruise line, but it also means we want you to have the very best experience you can. Travel is a commission based business, but every travel agent I know is far more interested in customer satisfaction than they are in getting the biggest commission. We want to establish an ongoing relationship with you and whether you want a budget friendly getaway or a grand adventure, it is our expertise about all of your options that makes the real difference. Believe me when I say, we want you to be a satisfied customer much more than a one time big commission. Since we can look at all cruise lines and cruises and are not limited to only the one on the the cruise line site you may visit, we can put you together with the right vacation experience. Why leave it to chance? There is a reason that the use of travel agents is actually increasing in this day and age of the internet do-it-yourself era.

To wrap it all up, how do you choose a cruise? Contact a travel professional with a realistic budget and an open mind. Give us the opportunity to ask the questions that allow us to get to know your wants and desires. Stay open to the possibility that the cruise you were thinking about when contacting us may - or may not - be the ideal choice for you. As cliche as it sounds, the memories made during a vacation are priceless and you deserve the opportunity to experience the vacation of your dreams.

Patrick Thompson
Independent Cruise Specialist
CruiseOne - NorCalCruises.com