Beth’s Top 10 Travel Tips (plus a bonus)


Define the purpose of the trip.  Are you looking for pure relaxation, cultural activities, active pursuits like hiking and biking, shopping, nightlife, kids activities?  Choose your destination and hotel/resort/cruise based on these desires.

Involve everyone in the planning.  Each person should contribute one must do thing for them during the trip that everyone can share in. 

Plan your travel days to be part of the vacation.  Instead of finding the shortest connections for your flights and having to run through the airport to make the connection, give yourself enough time to get off the plane and have some lunch.  Wander around the airport and get some exercise.  A lot of airports have interesting art or exhibits you can look at.  Take family or group photos at the airport.  This way you won’t feel like you’ve “lost” part of your vacation to travel days.

Packing.  It is really true that you should take half the clothes and twice the money than you originally planned.  Take clothes that coordinate with each other and that you can wear more than once.  Wrinkle proof fabrics.  Shoes are big space takers, I take my walking shoes, some flip flops (because I always go somewhere warm) and one pair of dressier shoes.  I also roll my clothes – they fit better in the suitcase, and if you flatten them out well first, then roll them they don’t wrinkle.  My hero is my Aunt Ann who can take a carry on for a 6 week Safari trip – when I grow up I want to pack like her.

Join Loyalty Programs.  Hotels, airlines and car rental companies all offer these and some even give you some perks on your first stay.  Even if you don’t travel often, it’s worth the couple of minutes it takes to join. 

Read the fine print!  If you are booking your own travel make sure you read all the fine print.  If you are using your travel agent, make sure they tell you about any exclusions, as well as inclusions.  Have them send you a copy of the terms & conditions for the supplier they are using.  Check for resort fees, parking fees, taxes that might not be included, airport transfers, that sort of thing.

Look for Value not price!  I can’t stress this enough.  This is your vacation that you have saved all year (or more) for, you’ve planned and researched for hours.  Choose a hotel or resort property that offers you the most value for your money.  If you are taking the kids it should have a great pool and activities that they enjoy (no one wants to hear “I’m bored” for a week!).  Look for free nights, breakfast included, etc.  (This is where your travel agent can be your best friend, I might have specials that you will never see.)  Don’t end up at the budget property with the broken floor tiles, refrigerator door hanging off the hinges, and the local’s dogs swimming in the pool.  Yes – that happened to one of my clients because she insisted on saving $100 for a week.  She always takes my advice now!

Pre-book any excursions that you really don’t want to miss out on!  But don’t over schedule.  Leave some time for relaxing, exploring with no time frame, and just seeing what the day brings.

Buy Travel Insurance!  I know what you’re thinking – we will go no matter what.  Then, on the way to the airport your taxi gets in a fender bender and you miss your flight.  What are you going to do?  Or, you get to your destination and your luggage went somewhere else?  Or…….well, there are a million things that can happen so why not protect your investment?

Use All of Your Vacation Days!  You’ve earned them and you need them.  You will be more productive if you take them (even if you just stay home).  American’s earn fewer vacation days per year than other industrialized countries AND THEN YOU WASTE THEM.  448,000,000 days were wasted last year.  (That is 448 MILLION days)  That is like giving $67 Billion (yes, I said BILLION) back to your employers.  Do you love them that much? 

Bonus Tip – Use a qualified Travel Agent.  Again, I know what you’re thinking.  She is a travel agent so, of course, she wants me to use her services.  And I do, if you’re planning a vacation to a tropical destination, taking a cruise, or going pretty much anywhere in theWestern Hemisphere.  If not me – find another qualified travel professional who specializes in the area you are planning to travel.  Most of the time it won’t cost you any more than booking it yourself, it will save you hours of research, and you have an advocate if you have a problem.  Even if you do have to pay a planning fee – isn’t it worth it to make sure that your precious vacation that you have saved & planned for comes off perfectly and stress free?

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Cruising on the Ruby Princess – Day 3


Not only did I not take pictures, I also didn’t keep a journal of my trip like I usually do, so I can’t remember everything I did.  During our first day at sea, I spent some time on deck reading.  I took a nap.  I had some cocktails.  I ate in the buffet.  I explored the ship.  I went to Vine’s Wine Bar before dinner.  The Ruby Princess has a lot of amenities and there is something to do all the time.  If you want to eat you have the choice of the buffet; the International Café which has salads, sandwiches, desserts, cheese trays, and gelato; the pizza and ice cream bar; Trident Grill for very good burgers and hot dogs; and more.  As for cocktails, there are numerous bars including Vines, Crooners Martini Bar, Wheelhouse Bar; Explorers Lounge, Club Fusion and of course Skywalkers nightclub; you can try your luck at Gatsby’s Casino; Movies Under the Stars – they actually show movies and concert footage most of the day so you can enjoy entertainment by the Calypso Pool; music by the Neptune Pool; you might prefer an adults only atmosphere at the Terrace Pool or the Sanctuary; there is entertainment in the Atrium area – jugglers and musical entertainment; maybe get a Spa Treatment – I didn’t, but Pam & Rosanna did and said it was fabulous; a not great mini golf course, but a way to spend some family time; and much more.

This was the first of 2 formal nights during the cruise, so I did dress up and met up with my niece and her family for pictures before dinner.  They actually came out pretty good and we all bought one.  My scanner is not working or I’d post it. 

I decided to go to the show after dinner.  No one else was up for it, but I got there about 20 minutes early.  I always look forward to their big musical productions – I can’t remember the name but it was kind of a Broadway tribute with lots of singing and dancing.  The boat was rocking pretty good again.  The good thing about the rocking was it made me sleepy which was great at night.  The bad thing is it made me sleepy so I was having trouble staying awake anytime I sat still for very long.  I was seriously having trouble staying awake until the show started.  It was a really good show and I’m always amazed that the dancers can manage to dance in heels and do lifts and all on that rocking ship.  Unfortunately, I only made it through about a half hour before I had to head to my room and bed. 

I love sea days because it is so relaxing if that’s what you want, or you can be busy all day if you want.  Personally, I like a good, lazy day at sea.

Oasis of the Seas – Fast Facts


The Wall Street Journal had a great piece on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s Oasis of the Seas on Wednesday, March 3rd. It had some incredible facts that I wanted to share with you. 

During a one week cruise, guests consume up to 20 gallons of Marischino cherries; 80,000 bottles of beer; over 20,000 towels, table cloths and sheets are laundered (I worked in a laundry when I was 16, I don’t envy the people who have this job); 2,000 – 3,000 doses of meclizine, a sea sickness medication, are dispensed; at the beginning of each cruise 750 pallets of supplies are loaded; there are 3 doctors on board, and it has it’s own intensive care unit; about 200 crew members are dedicated to entertaining passengers – this includes performers, lighting & sound experts and child activity planners; Corona is the most popular beer, and beef is the favorite meat – unless there are a lot of German passengers in which case it’s pork;  there are 26 kitchens for 24 restaurants plus the crew cafeteria:  there are 86,111 square feet of exterior glass, most of which is washed by hand but the more hard to reach areas are washed by robots:  there is a jail onboard, a helicopter landing pad, and the 2 smokestacks can retract to let the ship pass under bridges. 

One thing that concerns a lot of people with a ship this large is the impact to the environment.  One of the things I like about Royal Caribbean is their commitment to the environment.  Since 1992 they have had the “Save The Waves” program which started as a program focused on waste management and has evolved into a company-wide philosophy of social responsibility and environmental protection.  I also admire that they conduct their business above and beyond compliance with existing laws & regulations.  You can learn a lot more by visiting their website.

Should You Take A Cruise??


Almost everyone I talk with who has taken a cruise has absolutely loved it! In fact, cruise vacations have the highest satisfaction rate of any type of vacation!  Once in awhile though, I come across someone who says “I guess we just aren’t cruise people.” Generally after asking them a few questions about why they feel that way, the reality is that they were on the wrong cruise for them. So, how do you know that YOU are on the RIGHT cruise?

  • Destination – there are literally hundreds of ports of call for cruise ships around the world. Most people think of the Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, Hawaii and the Mediterranean. Within these destinations there are probably 100 or more ports of call. There are cruises to Asia, Australia, South America and the South Pacific. What about River Cruises – in Europe, China, Russia and the US. Picking the right Itinerary with the right Ports of Call is very important.
  • Cruise Line – Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has 23 cruise lines as members. I know of several others, such as Cruise West, which offer wonderful experiences and itineraries even though they are not members of CLIA. Does the cruise line you choose really make a difference? If you crave quiet spaces where you can relax with your book and end up on a cruise line with non stop action all over the ship, or vice versa – the answer is YES, the line you choose can have a big impact on your vacation experience.
  • Ship – OK, you’ve found the destination you would like to visit, you’ve chosen the cruise line – does the ship really make any difference? In some cases you won’t have a choice – if you want to go to Aruba on Royal Caribbean there may only be one ship that goes there. But if you want to go to the Eastern Caribbean on Royal Caribbean, and you don’t really care which islands you visit, you may be able to choose between a ship that carries 1900 passengers and one that carries 3400. Or, you may only want to sail on small ships with around 500 passengers (or fewer). In this case you may choose your destination after researching which cruise lines offer smaller ships.  
  • Cabin Selection – you say your cabin selection doesn’t really matter because you won’t be in there that much? Well, you may not spend a lot of time in there, but while you’re waiting for your spouse to shower and dress for dinner would you rather be sitting on your bed in an inside cabin with no window or sitting on a lounge chair on your balcony sipping a glass of wine and watching the sunset?  Besides the decision of whether to get an Interior, Oceanview, Verandah or Suite – should you be in the front of the ship, the back, the middle?
  • Timing – the time of year you go can impact your enjoyment of the trip quite a lot as well. If you really want to go to Alaska, but hate the cold, you probably don’t want to go at the beginning of May. If your cruise is a once in a lifetime vacation and you have a specific Caribbean island you don’t want to miss, you don’t want to go during Hurricane season when your itinerary could be changed due to storm activity. Number of nights is important as well – as a first time cruiser a shorter cruise may be best to be sure you are “a cruise person”.

These are all important things to take into account when planning your cruise vacation. There are many more, such as what is the occasion for the cruise? Is it a family reunion with a large age range of passengers; your Honeymoon; a girlfriend getaway; an affinity club? Where is the ship sailing from? How much time do you have for your vacation? Do you want a themed cruise? Do you want a lot of cultural activities that tie into the destination?

These are all decisions that a qualified travel agent can help you make.

And now is a great time to book your cruise vacation!  There are lots of specials going on – lowered deposits, special amenities, special pricing and more.  This makes for a wonderful family or group vacation.  And the best thing is that there is no risk!  I know the economy is a little scary right now.  With a cruise vacation your deposit is fully refundable up until the time you make your final payment (usually 60 days prior to cruising).  You can protect yourself even more by taking out travel insurance – some policies cover you for job loss or allow you to cancel for any reason almost up until the day you sail!

Bon Voyage!

Iberostar Amazon Cruises??


I’m a travel consultant and I knew that Iberostar had hotels across Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and South America.  But I just learned this week that they also offer Amazon River Cruises.  The Iberostar Grand Amazon is just 270’, has 72 cabins and 2 suites.  There are also 2 pools and one Jacuzzi, 2 restaurants, a fitness center, conference room for up to 148 persons, a ballroom and even Internet service.

 

This luxury cruise offers daily excursions such as hiking in the rain forest, swimming with pink dolphins, nighttime boat trips, and more.  The excursions are led by locals from the Manaus area and are grouped by language.  At least 2 guides accompany each group and are appropriate for most fitness levels as you will stop frequently for the guides to point our local flora and fauna.

These all inclusive trips range from 3 – 7 days, staterooms are a roomy 240 sq. ft., all have verandahs and are decorated with Brazilian hardwoods, art and crafts.  They are very reasonably priced, but will probably go up soon.  If you’re planning a trip to South America and want to explore the Amazon or Negro rivers, this would make a great addition to your trip.

 

For more information contact Perfect Paradise Vacations at 877-762-1446.

 

Cruise to Learn – Day 3


Tuesday, November 6th

 

We will be arriving in Cabo San Lucas this morning.  When I wake up I can see land far off.  I don’t have a balcony on this cruise, but I could just sit on my bed for hours and stare out at the seas! I find it to be so soothing and it really renews me.

 

I didn’t get up for the 8:00 Nia class, but I hear later that it was wonderful.  We had been told we could use the Viking Crown lounge, but Susan did not feel the dance floor there was safe for dancing barefoot, so Alan got them moved to the Some Enchanted Evening lounge with it’s large wooden floor and windows overlooking the bow of the ship.  Everyone really seemed to love looking out at the water while doing their Nia movements.

Cabo is a short port stay.  We arrive at 10:30 and have to be back onboard by 5:30.  Since we have to tender into shore, I’ve decided to just explore on my own.  After a leisurely breakfast and about an hour in the sun, I met Joan at noon to head off the ship.  I’d been told that we could hire a water taxi to give us a tour out to Los Arcos and Lover’s Beach.  Once off the tender we saw how easy that was.  There were plenty of vendors offering water taxi’s, glass bottom boat rides, fishing excursions – pretty much anything you wanted to do that involved boats.  We were offered a 45 minute tour in a glass bottom boat for $10 each – we thought that was a fair deal so did not even bargain.  Our boat owner took us down to the dock to get on the boat (I can’t remember the name of it now).  There was another couple getting on with us.  Our boat captain was Gilberto. 

Gilberto

We headed out of the marina (after filling up with gas) and cruised along the coastline.  The rock formations are amazing.  I will let them speak for themselves.  (I’m having some problems with the size of my pics, so will add more later.)

Gilberto was pointing out the Dinosaur getting a Drink; the Pig; Scooby Do (he didn’t get it when our fellow boater said “Where are you, Scooby Do?”  He kept pointing it out again.  J  ), and other formations.

drinking-dinosaur.jpg     pig-rock-formation.jpg

He stopped the boat at one spot where the fish wait for the boats, gave us some bread to feed them.  They were pretty amazing.  If you threw a piece around 8 feet from the boat they would actually jump out of the water to grab it. 

We passed the beautiful Lover’s Beach.  He pointed out a cave and told us that “2 go in and 3 come out”.  The water was starting to get a bit rough by this time.  I was trying to get some pictures of the water coming over the rocks and splashing high up, it almost looked like a waterfall.  I really had to just hold the camera up and hope for the best.  I ended up with some pictures of the inside of the boat – I won’t share those here. 

Gilberto tried to get us close to shore to see the sea lions when a big wave hit us.  It was a bit scary, but I figure we got a free roller coaster ride along with the price of the boat ride.  We moved out a bit from shore and went around the point.  When we came back it had calmed down a bit and we were able to get close enough for these pics.  We couldn’t figure out how the big guy got on top of that rock – there was another sea lion at the bottom who didn’t seem to be able to figure it out either.

sea-lion.jpg      sea-lion-king-of-the-rock.jpg

I also enjoyed seeing the pelicans.  I don’t know what it is about them – maybe just the fact I don’t see them here in Seattle, but I find them fascinating. 

When we came back in we had Gilberto drop us at a different spot so we were closer to the shops and restaurants.  We walked around town a bit and checked out a few shops.  It was getting pretty hot so we decided to head back towards the ship and stop for a drink.  Of course, I don’t remember the name of the place we stopped at.  It was on a corner and there were a couple of guys with Iguanas letting people take pictures.  Someone probably knows the name.  Usually when I travel I keep very good notes, I don’t know what I was thinking this time.  I really needed this to be a vacation as well as business, so I guess I turned my brain off when I was off the ship.  It did have a very nice view across the marina.

I’m not much for having Iguana’s sitting on my head, but Joan was up for it.  I want to post the pics, but am still having trouble with the sizing – I will try to add them later.

Joan with Iguanas 

We got back on board just in time.  As I mentioned the water was pretty rough this afternoon and some of the later tenders had to back away from the ship and wait for the water to calm down.  Eventually everyone was back on board and we enjoyed the sunset as we sailed away.

I think the show tonight for late dining was at 7:00.  I don’t really like this, I really prefer going to dinner and then the show, but since this was one of the big production shows I went.  It was Boogie Wonderland.  I’m always impressed with the level of talent on these ships, as well as how they can dance with the movement of the ship.  This was a very fun and upbeat show.

 (I forgot to mention that I went to the comedy show the night before.  The headliner was Troy Thirdgill who was very funny, and clean at that.  I had met him in the Schooner Bar the night before and he was a very nice person as well.  I saw him leaving in Cabo – off to join a ship with a stop in Aruba, his job is almost as tough as mine – and he stopped to say goodbye. It is very refreshing to see someone that talented who is also that nice.) 

Our dinner table was a lot of fun every night.  Our waiter Anthony, and assistant waiter Luke took great care of us.   It was great getting to know my table mates.  And I really liked that everyone came to dinner every night (with only 2 exceptions throughout the week and they had very good reasons).  It was fun sharing what each person had done that day.  A couple of the people at our table had gone to Cabo Wabo and Sammy Hagar was there and performed – that would have been great to see!

I think I retired shortly after dinner this night.  I usually keep a journal when I travel – I keep track of what was for dinner, what I had, and what I did throughout the day.  I wish I had this time – I feel like I’m missing important details.  Maybe my fellow cruisers will come along and fill in for me.