Part 1…Booking cruises and competitive pricing… How do we book our cruises for the best pricing?…

 

The fact that I was standing on a steep hill is evidenced in this lopsided photo of this steeple in the hills in Sao Vincente. Certainly, I could have straightened the camera to adjust, but I was distracted by the views.

Currently, we have four cruises booked with more we hope to book over the next several months. Yesterday, we posted our upcoming itinerary from July 31, 2014, through April 11, 2016.  f you’d like to see it, please click here.

The vineyards, the sparse trees, and the mountains in the background create a pretty scene.

Finding the best possible prices for cruises is tricky and time-consuming. Since we began our travels outside the US 18 months ago, we’ve been on 10 cruises, all of them booked through Vacations to Go where we received the best pricing.

The rich soil in the hills is ideal for gardens and farms in this scene from Sao Vincente.

Now, as time marches on, we’re finding competitive pricing at other sites for the cruises we’re yet to book.  Booking cruises is not as easy a task as one might think.

The well-utilized hills illustrate the creativity of the people of Madeira in using their surroundings.

There are several factors that determine the starting prices of the cruises:

  1. Rating of the ship: Rated from one to five stars
  2. Cruise itinerary: Certain itineraries are always more expensive than others
  3. Length of the cruise: Longer doesn’t necessarily equate to a lower price
  4. The popularity of the cruise: Supply and demand
  5. Time of the year: Often the best time of year to cruise is often between Christmas and New Year’s due to lack of demand and in the first two weeks of January when the public is experiencing holiday withdrawal. Or, if one prefers a cruise can be booked during hurricane season in the Caribbean for a better price.
  6. Taxes, fees, including gratuities (which is seldom shown in the advertised price but often is required to be paid to paid at final payment), special promotions, discounts for past customers, coupons, or discounts for special categories such as AARP and others.
More beautiful farming in Sao Vincent.

The following personal preferences determine the final costs for a cruise:

  1. Cabin selection: Inside cabin (no windows), Oceanview (from a small to large window depending on the ship), Balcony (includes a varying in size balcony accessed through sliding doors from inside the cabin), and Suite
  2. Category selection: In each of the above cabin selections, there are Categories with varying pricing which may double the price or more, as in the case of Suites, which can be from a Mini-Suite (extra amenities, slightly larger) all the way to a “Grand or Royal” Suites (apartment/penthouse type suites). Some cabins may have an obstructed or partially obstructed view or be above or below a noisy venue which may or may not have a bearing on the price.
  3. Location of the cabin on the ship: The deck number, proximity to areas customer favors, easy access to stairs or elevators, etc.
  4. Side of the ship on which the cabin is located for best viewing when sailing past points of interest.
  5. Packages and excursions preferred: Beverages package (multiple categories as much as USD $59, EU $43.40 per person/per day!), specialty dining (not all meals are included on cruises. There are often multiple restaurants each with a “fixed price” that can be booked. Excursions at varying ports of call from private tours to bus tours.
  6. Internet: Internet fees are outrageous on cruises, usually at US $.75, EU $.55, per minute to prepaid packages bringing the cost down as much as 50%. 
  7. Spa and salon services, personal trainers, specialty training in various categories, personal purchases, photos (often taken without your permission and later offered to you at high prices), casino, art auctions, etc.
  8. Beverages not included in either a pre-purchased beverage package or if no beverage package is purchased, the cost of drinks not included with meals (coffee or tea) or provided at complimentary coffee/tea stations located in the pool and casual dining areas; bottled water, soda, specialty coffees, and alcoholic beverages.  These can add to as much as a 25% increase in the overall cost of the cruise plus an added 15% gratuity on both beverage packages and individual beverage purchases.
  9. On many cruises, there are special activities and events that may impose additional costs if the customer chooses to partake such as bingo and other games with cash prices, dance lessons,  etc.
  10. Travel insurance: This may be as much as US $50 per person/per day of the cruise. (We never purchase travel insurance on specific cruises. We each have an annual travel insurance policy that provides this type of coverage at a considerably lower price).
As we approached the ocean in Sao Vincente.  The road was too narrow to stop.  I took this photo while the car was moving.

All of the above come into play when we decide to book a cruise. We have no delusions as to these costs and luckily did our research before booking our first cruise. Having an experienced cruise agent is also a factor which incurs no obvious additional cost.

This was the first swimming pool we’ve seen on the island of Madeira. With the cool climate, a pool, unless heated, wouldn’t be enjoyable. This may be a small hotel or B & B.

Tomorrow, we’ll describe the cabins we typically choose and why, the amenities we prefer, the extras we willingly include and, the cost of a few of our upcoming cruises as listed in yesterday’s itinerary.

Please check back.

                                             Photo from one year ago today, July 5, 2013:

Driving through Collodi, Italy, the village where the author of Pinocchio lived, we spotted the Villa Garzoni, a restored mansion which we believe is now a hotel. For details from that date, please click here.

 

 

Cruise to Australia details…Itinerary, cost, details, deck plan and how we chose a cabin…

 

No matter how busy we may become in planning for the future we never fail to stop and notice the beauty surrounding us at the time, whether its a simple flower on our veranda or an expansive view.

Following is the information about the cruise we’ve booked in Sydney, Australia on May 24, 2015. Once we arrive in Sydney, we’ll stay for a few days to see the beautiful city and then take off for the first of several vacation homes in which we’ll live in various parts of the continent.

One of our top priorities will be to go on a wildlife photography safari which we’ll arrange to occur between vacation homes to avoid added costs. Australia has a wealth of wildlife and scenery we can hardly wait to see. 

When we leave Australia we’ll then move on to New Zealand where we’ll also live for a yet to be determined period of time taking advantage of what treasures this island will also have in store for us.

Once again we booked our cruise with Vacations to Go although we’re now working with a new rep when Joaquin our former rep is no longer employed. With a little work, we’ve found a new rep and so far we’re pleased with her assistance. Anna Urban can be reached by email at aurban@vacationstogo.com

Here’s the cruise to Australia that not only provides us with transportation to Australia but also interesting ports of call along the way. Scroll further down the page for the cruise itinerary.

Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas

One of Royal Caribbean’s Vision-class ships, the Legend of the Seas is well-equipped with many of the line’s signature features. The multilevel Centrum, an open atrium with gliding glass elevators, palm trees, panoramic windows, and gleaming brass, is the center of all the action and an ideal spot to gather for a pre-dinner cocktail and listen to live music. Other popular hot spots include the convivial Schooner Bar, the sophisticated Champagne Bar, and the Viking Lounge, which is an observation point by day and a pulsating dance club at night. There’s also a glitzy casino, a show lounge, and Solarium with a glass-enclosed pool area and retractable roof. Go for a seaside jog on the top deck, spend a few hours being pampered, or work out with a view at the Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center. Kids will love the 18-hole miniature golf course and Adventure Ocean youth facilities located on the top deck. The Windjammer Café is a casual alternative to the formal, two-level Romeo & Juliet Dining Room. Staterooms amenities include a private bath, vanity area, and sofa, as well as a mini-bar, hairdryer, TV, and phone. Legend of the Seas
 Ship Statistics 
Year Built 1995
Last Refurbished 2013
Tonnage 70,000 tons
Registry Bahamas
Length 867 feet
Beam 105 feet
Passenger Capacity 2,076
Crew Size 720
Total Inside Cabins 327
Total Outside Cabins 575
Cabins & Suites w/ verandas 231
Suites 87
Maximum Occupancy per room 7
Age Restrictions One person must be 21 or older
Dinner Seatings 2
Seating Assignments 
in Main Dining Room
Assigned
Dining Hours 6:00 p.m. & 8:30 p.m.
Dining Room Dress Code Dining
Tipping Recommended? Yes
Tipping Guidelines Royal Caribbean will automatically add a $12.00 USD gratuity ($14.25 USD for Suite guests) to each guest’s onboard SeaPass® account on a daily basis. 15% tip included on beverage orders.
Onboard Currency US Dollar
Services & Amenities
Bars/Lounges 8
Beauty Salon/Barber Shop Yes
Casino Yes
Note: The casino does not operate when sailing within the Hawaiian Islands.
Chapel Yes
Disco/Dancing Yes
Elevators 3
Hot Tub 4
Cell Phone Service Yes
Internet Center Yes
Wireless Internet Access Yes
Note: Available in certain areas
Laundry/Dry Cleaning Yes
Library Yes
Movie Theatre No
Outdoor Movie Screen Yes
Onboard Weddings Yes
Self Serve Laundromats No
Shops Yes
Showroom Yes
Spa Yes
Video Arcade Yes
Fitness & Sports Facilities
Basketball Court No
Fitness Center Yes
Golf Driving Net No
Golf Simulator No
Ice Skating Rink No
Jogging Track Yes
Mini-Golf Course Yes
Rock Climbing Wall Yes
Swimming Pool 2
Note: 1 Heated
Tennis Court No
Water Slide No
Water Sports Platform No
Cabin Features & Amenities
24-Hour Room Service Yes
Hair Dryer Yes
Safe Yes
Telephone Yes
Television Yes
Kids Facilities
Babysitting Yes
Children’s Playroom Yes
Kiddie Pool Yes
Supervised Youth Program Yes
Teen Center Yes
Special Needs & Requests
Adjoining Cabins
(private connecting doors)
Yes
Kosher Meals Yes
Single Occupancy Cabins No
Wheelchair-Accessible Cabins 17
Single Share Program No

The D2 Balcony Cabin we chose was an upgrade from the prices listed below. Plus, there was a sale in progress until May 31, 2014, much to our delight that resulted in a savings of US $1700, EU $1250.4. Had this discount not been offered, we would not have chosen this cruise. It was only Tom’s daily diligence in checking possible cruises that presented this opportunity. Below are the charges, after the discount:

Charges
Cruise (includes port charges) US $5,308.00, EU $3898.49

Government Taxes US $294.64, EU $216.73
Prepaid Gratuities US $408.00, EU $300.11
Total Sale US $6,010.64, EU $4421.22

Total Payments: Deposit Paid 5/27/2014, US$ 900.00, EU $662.01 Balance Due March 5, 2015, US $5,110.64, EU $3759.29

 Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas
 18 nights departing May 24, 2015  

Cheapest Inside $1,762
Cheapest Oceanview $2,182

Cheapest Balcony $2,460
Cheapest Suite $3,165

ITINERARY

DAY DATE PORT ARRIVE   DEPART
Sun May 24 Honolulu, Oahu, HI 11:00pm
Mon May 25 At Sea
Tue May 26 At Sea
Wed May 27 At Sea
Thu May 28 At Sea
Fri May 29 At Sea
Sat May 30 Moorea, Society Islands 8:00am 5:00pm
Sun May 31 Papeete, Tahiti, Society Islands 8:00am 9:00pm
Mon Jun 1 Bora Bora, Society Islands 8:00am 5:00pm
Tue Jun 2 At Sea
Wed Jun 3 At Sea
Thu Jun 4 At Sea
Fri Jun 5 Cross International Dateline
Sat Jun 6 Suva, Fiji 9:00am 5:00pm
Sun Jun 7 At Sea
Mon Jun 8 Ile des Pins, New Caledonia 7:00am 5:00pm
Tue Jun 9 At Sea
Wed Jun 10 At Sea
Thu Jun 11 Sydney, Australia 6:00am

Cabin Choice:

We chose the cabin based on several factors based on past experience:
1.  Avoid bars, restaurants, or discos above or below the chosen cabin.
2.  Avoid a cabin with the pool directly above due to the noise from the crew cleaning and moving deck chairs during the night.
3.  Avoid being too close to the bow or the stern of the ship. The center of the ship has more stability.
4.  Consider elevators, recreation areas and stairwells for possible noise.

The above listed prices for various cabins (before discounts) are based on the lowest prices, many of which may fall into the risks of our comments above.  We chose a D2 cabin as described below.  Each ship provides a deck plan from which to choose for example, as shown below, keeping in mind that each ship is unique:

Legend of the Seas Deck 7

Please scroll to the right for full view of the deck plan.
Superior Ocean View Stateroom with Balcony

Category D1

Category D2

Category D3

Two twin beds that convert to a Royal King, measuring 72.5 inches wide by 82 inches long, private balcony, sitting area with sofa bed, and a private bathroom. (190 sq. ft., balcony 37 sq. ft.)
Panoramic Ocean View Stateroom

Category PV

Floor to ceiling window. Two twin beds that convert to a Royal King, measuring 72.5 inches wide by 82 inches long, sitting area with sofa, vanity area and a private bathroom. (220 sq. ft.)
Superior Interior Stateroom

Category J

Two twin beds that convert to a Royal King, measuring 72.5 inches wide by 82 inches long, vanity area and a private bathroom. (142 sq. ft.)
Large Interior Stateroom

Category L

Two twin beds that convert to a Royal King, measuring 72.5 inches wide by 82 inches long, vanity area and a private bathroom. (142 sq. ft.)
Interior Stateroom

Category N

Two twin beds that convert to a Royal King, measuring 72.5 inches wide by 82 inches long, vanity area, and a private bathroom. (132 sq. ft.)

Legend:
Stateroom with sofa bed.
Stateroom has third Pullman bed available.
Stateroom has third and fourth Pullman bed available.
Connecting staterooms.
Indicates accessible staterooms.
Stateroom with sofa bed and third Pullman bed available.
Stateroom has four additional Pullman beds available.
Deck 7 (starts 4-29-15)

This is enough info for one day. We’ll be back tomorrow with more on Madeira for which will include photos of an interesting weather phenomenon that kept us outdoors most of the day on Wednesday, excited and in awe.

Happy day! 
__________________________________________

Photo from one year ago today, May 29, 2013:

Umer, our taxi driver, and tour guide took this photo of us before we entered the White Mosque. It was so hot! Tomorrow, we’ll be caught up on all the missing dates from the days we didn’t post while we were in Dubai. Watch for a great photo tomorrow! For the story and more photos from this date a year ago, please click here.

 

It’s all in the details…Four days and counting…

Natural vegetation around our resort.

Oh, good grief!  Could there be more details to handle before we leave? It’s not as simple as packing our bags and hitting the road.  We knew this going in. 

It’s easy for me to remember how much work it was to handle a single two-week vacation. In 2011, Tom and I went to Hollywood, Florida for a convention. With social events many nights, the packing was challenging. It wasn’t a matter of a few pairs of jeans, shorts, tee shirts, a dress, underwear, and toiletries.

This wooden alligator hand-carved by a local craftsman.  Up close, the detail is riveting with individually hand-carved teeth

Yes, I’ll admit that I like a different outfit and its accompanying accessories every night.  That’s who I am.  People who know me well, get this, teasing me endlessly for my particular nature. However, I’ve tempered my need for a variety of adopting a “mix and match” philosophy, turning one outfit into many.  That seems to work well when traveling. 

Windy, cloudy day today.

So, as of today, my entire travel wardrobe, including shoes, bags, underwear, bathing suits, dress-up and casual wear is situated in two suitcases packed and ready to go.  I did it. I let “stuff” go. Tom has two large equally stuffed bags, packed and ready to go.

Our goal by the time we left Belize, was to have three large bags, packed with the items we’re letting go to send to my sister in Los Angeles to store until we need them. Right now, two of those three bags are packed. The third contains miscellaneous items we can’t let go: prescriptions, medical supplies, steamer, beach towels, etc. 

While sitting at the pool today, we met a lovely newlywed couple, but ran indoors when the skies opened to giant raindrops.

The reality, after days of sorting and resorting, is that we may end up with five large suitcases after we ship two, not three bags to Julie. The rest is carry-on. 

We will fly six times in the next 18 months:  Dubai to Barcelona, Rome to Kenya, Kenya to South Africa, South Africa to Morocco, Morocco to Madeira, Madeira to who knows where? We have 3 1/2 months to “kill” that we haven’t yet planned.) Most of these airlines have recently changed their checked bag policies. 

A few months ago, Emirates Airlines, which we’ll fly on May 21, 2013, from Dubai to Barcelona, allowed two checked bags of 30 kg (66 pounds each). Now it’s down to one bag. The cost for a 2nd bag is in the $100’s if not more depending on the weight. 

We discuss our options such as storage facilities in various locations along the way. We haven’t decided yet, but will soon.

Reading this, I am sure many may think, “GET RID OF MORE STUFF!”  Sounds practical. But, a reality few ever faced, this is everything we own. We have no home to go back to in order to repack. Many world travelers do.  Everything we own is with us in this villa right now.  EVERYTHING!  Oops! Our tax records and documents are stored with son in Nevada. 

The next detail that we finally solved was getting all of our six boarding passes printed. There was some glitch between my sending them via email to the front desk. After several attempts, I contacted our cruise guy, Joaquin, who happened to be on vacation. Alas, our guy came through sending us new PDF documents for all of our cruises.  Tim, at the desk, printed them all.  Now, we’re set all the way through to our cruise on June 4, 2013.

The cruise lines send documents to passengers, which include luggage tags one must print themselves, using sticky paper. Who has sticky paper? Not us. 

Calling the cruise lines using Skype, I verified in each case that we can get luggage tags from the porters when our bags at taken from us at the pier.  On our two earlier cruises this year, they were mailed to us. These cruise lines no longer mail the luggage tags: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian, all of which we’ll be on in the next two months. 

Of course, we have our own permanent luggage tags on each of our bags but cruise lines handle so much luggage, they want the pre-printed cabin number and name on each piece of luggage to avoid delays.  Understandable. 

This morning, Tom stated, “Gee, I wonder what passengers older than us, who don’t have printers or even computers at home, manage to print their documents.”  Good point.  As I mentioned yesterday, electronic documents attached to a person’s passport or other ID would be an ideal solution. 

Yesterday, we confirmed our private shuttle for the four-hour drive to Belize City on Tuesday (on the scary road).  I kindly asked if they could have either the windows open (we couldn’t open them) this time or turn on the AC.   It was 90 humid degrees that day, resulting in four hours of hot sweaty bouncing on the rough, winding,  treacherous road. The owner of the shuttle company promised they’d have AC working.

We’re eating all of our remaining food in the freezer. Tonight, bacon cheeseburgers (no bun), pork chops, and coleslaw, an odd combination. Tomorrow, the same and Sunday, we’ve invited our local friends for homemade low carb GF pizza and salad, our favorite staple for which we have all the ingredients.

Winding down.  I keep telling Tom that within six hours of leaving here at 8:00 am Tuesday morning we’ll be on the ship, unpacking in our cabin on the Carnival Liberty (oh, please Carnival, no incidents!). I say this to comfort myself as well as Tom.

At that point, we can relax looking forward to staying put for 11 days until we switch ships at the pier in Miami for the journey across the ocean on the Norwegian Epic, a huge five-star ship.

There is nothing more we can do today. Soon, we’ll venture out to the pool for our hour of lounging in a lawn chair, dipping in the water every 15 minutes to cool off.  We’ll miss the pool, the staff, the people, our friends, the expanse of the ocean at our door, our time on the veranda, our walks along the beach, the sounds of the birds, and the breathtaking vegetation.

Soon, we’ll have a new place to embrace. It’s all good.

 

Never been cruising?…What????…

Many have laughed when we say that we have never been on a cruise and now, we’ve booked eight cruises.  How risky, they say.  We ask, “What’s the risk?”

When we’ve dared to ask what they perceive as the risk, here are the answers:

1.  Seasickness:  Unlikely, since both of us are avid boaters.  If we could avoid seasickness bouncing around in a small fishing boat on a very windy day on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota with nary a thought about seasickness, it’s highly unlikely we’ll get sick on a giant ship with built-in stabilizers.  Backup plan: we have several prescribed packets of Transderm Scop.

2.  Boredom:  Nope, not likely.  Tom and I are easily entertained. We will participate in many activities, meet people, play cards, attend classes, and relax in a chaise lounge by the pool reading downloaded books on our phones.  The options to be entertained are endless.

3.  The food will be a problem with our limited diet:  Why would the food be a problem?  We eat.  They have food.  Will we be tempted on occasion to try something we don’t normally eat? Sure.  But we’ll remind ourselves every day that our ability to travel the world is predicated upon our good health. Why jeopardize feeling well for even one day for a French pastry?  To me, it’s not worth it. For Tom, he may occasionally try a few items.  Neither of us will judge the other for their personal decisions, although we’ll continue to offer loving support on staying the course. 

4.  Tiny, cramped cabin: We booked a balcony cabin for each cruise and managed a few upgrades to mini-suites. We’ll spend little time in our cabin. Our world-travel bags currently are all in our bedroom here in Scottsdale, only slightly larger than a cabin (we measured).  We’ll stack them neatly in one area.  We’re tidy.  We’ll be fine.

5.  Extra charges aboard cruise:  As discussed in a post from earlier in the week, we’ve made decisions in advance, based on our budget as to what extras we will choose:  purchase Internet time, purchase cocktails when desired (not the overpriced beverage package unfitting a lightweight drinker) and experience one or two excursions.  (The exception to that will be the upcoming cruise to Dubai in May to see Giza, the Sphinx, and the Great Pyramids.  We’ll do all of these!)  Neither of us cares for professional massages, spa treatments, gambling, or spending money in the expensive shops. We have no room for trinkets in our bags.  We may incur a laundry charge aboard ship most likely upwards of $100 a load.  We’ve budgeted for the expenses that we anticipate and, leaving a margin for the unknowns.

I guess it all boils down to this: self-control.  We need only to remind ourselves of our next adventure, our next juicy steak topped with mushrooms and onions, our next refreshing glass of iced tea with a slice of lemon, and of course, the person we love sitting beside us who makes us laugh warms our heart and holds our hand through it all. 

Yesterday, while checking in online with Celebrity Cruise Line for our first upcoming cruise on January 3, 2013, we perused information for our later cruise leaving Miami on January 21, 2013 sailing to Belize where we’ll live for two and a half months on each of the peninsulas of Placencia and Ambergris Caye. 

We’ll be disembarking in Belize City, three days prior to the end of the cruise.  (We have written approval from the cruise line to disembark early).  We’ve discovered that the pier in Belize City is too shallow for cruise ships to dock and thus, we’ll be “tendered” to shore via a smaller boat. 

For a moment we both panicked envisioning the process of maneuvering our eight pieces of luggage, our computer and digital equipment bags, my handbag, and ourselves into a small boat.  This morning, after a fitful night we promptly called the cruise line to discover that the boat picking us up will be boarded via a large stable ramp to awaiting boats holding anywhere from 100 to 200 passengers at a time.  We’ll not only have assistance from the ship’s employees but also the staff on the smaller boats since they also assist passengers as they are boarding.  No fear!  Whew!

There’s no doubt that the simplicity of our “old” life avoided such decisions, avoided such challenges, avoided such risks.  In the perpetual search for familiarity, comfort, and ease, we found ourselves, happy but stuck in a groove we could have blissfully stayed as we lived out our lives in retirement. 

We’ve chosen “the road less traveled” to challenge ourselves, to expand our knowledge, to enhance our personal histories, and to celebrate and appreciate the amazing world and the people in it.  We’ll make some bad decisions, we’ll make some wrong turns, and at times we may wonder, “why are we doing this?”  But we’ll do this together, we’ll learn together and we’ll marvel together, always grateful and always in love.