Friday, December 11, 2009

Reconnecting and thoughts on tipping

Well this is sweet. I've heard from some old clients who'd lost track of me, some client/friends who wanted to let me know they've seen my blog and some potential new clients. Now I have to come up with some ideas to blog about to keep this going. I will certainly welcome any suggestions from all ya'll about topics you'd like me to cover.

In chatting with folks I've been asking for opinions about the " for your convenience" automatic charging of tips/gratuities to your onboard account. I'll agree that it is convenient but I really prefer to hand an envelope or wad of cash to my waiter, bus boy and room steward. If we do the automatic thing we still end up giving those folks a little extra. I understand why the cruise lines do the automatic thing and if a guest has opted to do one of the open dining plans (everyone calls it something different) then it's the 'fair' way to make sure that all your different servers get some tips. And, sadly, I understand that there are some folks who wouldn't tip if it wasn't done automatically.

You can opt out of the automatic option if you wish by going to the front desk and asking. They will attempt to change your mind if you have open seating and I'd do the same.

The cruise lines don't pay their servers and cabin attendants much and the servers and cabin stewards rely on tips so if you have a different waiter every night you'd either have to tip after each meal or go try to hunt them all down at the end of your cruise. Not going to happen.

This leads to my thoughts and questions about the open seating options now available. Norwegian Cruise Line started it all with their "Freestyle Cruising". Because some folks like the flexibility of choosing when, where and with whom they dine most of the other main stream lines added an open seating option in addition to their traditional early and late seatings. I really enjoy having the same wait staff for dinner every night. They get to know likes and dislikes and it just is more to my liking to go to the same table every evening and sit with the same group of folks.

Then the cruise lines started adding 'alternative dining' restaurants which, in most cases, have a surcharge that ranges from $10 - $30 per guest. I personally think that the food and choices in the regular restaurants has suffered in the hopes that we'll go to the alternatives. The food is still good but pretty ordinary. Some travelers go to the alternatives numerous times throughout their cruise because they love fine dining and upscale choices. One gentleman was quoted as saying for $25 extra he got a meal that would have pushed $100 in a shore side establishment. And with some of the fantastically low cruise prices these days you can end up with a pretty classy vacation and eat lobster and prime beef every night.

In general most of my long time travelers prefer the set dining time but the newer cruisers like the flexibility of open seating. By the way for you folks who've not cruised before breakfast and lunch are usually open seating in the main dining rooms or there are buffet restaurants for those meals as well. The buffet restaurants may also be open in the evenings so there are plenty of opportunities to get fed. My standard old joke is that there is one meal a day - from the time you get up till the time you go to bed someone is trying to feed you. Oh yes, there's also room service . I love my early morning coffee delivered to the room and we can get some food for Mark who likes breakfast practically the minute his feet hit the floor. Then we can go get food a few hours later and he's ready to eat again.

I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on the tipping and dining issues.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Alaska Here We Come

A few years ago there was a wonderful older ship that did an intensive 14 night cruise that went to some of the Alaskan ports that the bigger 7 night ships missed. It was an educational experience that folks just raved about. Mark and I always procrastinated and never did it and then they took the ship out of service.

Earlier this year Holland America Line announced that one of their smaller ships was going to start doing a 14 night cruise to Alaska starting in 2010. When we had to cancel our Canada New England cruise this fall to deal with Marks health issues we decided that we just had to reward ourselves with the 2 week trip to Alaska. So we are issuing an invitation to family, friends, clients, new friends and potential clients to join us. The details are:

We will depart from Seattle on Monday May 31, 2010 and will be visiting: Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, Glacier Bay, ANCHORAGE, HOMER, KODIAK Island, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau and Victoria with three at sea days in addition to the two days cruising the glaciers. The ship will dock in Anchorage for 16 hours which will allow time for a visit to Denali Park. Our return will be from Seattle on Monday June 14, 2010.

At this time there is a fantastic rate for a one night stay in downtown Seattle May 30 prior to the cruise. This deal could go away at any time so book early because the following rates are subject to change. There are also all kinds of deals happening on cruises for 2010 so the following prices could also go down. Airfares will be subject to availability and right now are around $400 from Atlanta. I'm watching for low $300s which could happen at any time.

I love the Lower Promenade deck because you can walk down the hall a bit and go right outside for your Alaska viewing pleasure. There are several types of staterooms available on that deck and I've got good rates on four of them. We've got interior category K (no window) - Outside fully obstructed view category HH - Outside partially obstructed view category DD and outside unobstructed view category C. I also have some unobstructed view cabins on main deck. All the outside rooms have picture windows not portholes. The fully and partially obstructed rooms look across the promenade and there may be a stauncion or life boat support but you have natural light and by looking to the right or left you'll see the ocean, sky and scenery plus I can't stress enough that capability for easy outside access.

The following prices are per person based on double occupancy. I've included the hotel package for one night in Seattle and that includes the transfers (from the airport to the hotel - hotel to the ship - ship back to the airport).

All taxes and fees are included but the cruise line reserves the right to add a fuel surcharge if oil prices reach a certain level. So far that hasn't happened. I've not included airfare or travel insurance which is optional but recommended. I'm setting up a group insurance program that will be approximately $105 - $125 per person based on the total price of the trip.

Category K $2218.00

Category HH $2418.00

Category DD $2458.00

Category C $2718.00

Other categories, single, triple and quad rates are available on request. Not included are gratuities, shore excursions and other items of a personal nature.

On our last Alaska group cruise I was able to set up some shore excursions and we had our own buses plus saved a bundle over the cruise lines prices.

The Amsterdam is one of Holland America Lines smaller ships (61,000 GRTs) with 1380 passengers based on double occupancy. She entered service in 2000 and had a refurbishment in 2005. There are not many balcony rooms and the ones they do have are 300 square foot Veranda suites. There are also some beautiful Deluxe Veranda Suites that are bigger than my first apartment. The outside rooms are 197 square feet and the interior rooms are 182 square feet.

Any questions?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

OMG LOL I'm a blogger


This is my brand spankin' new blog for my clients, friends and interested parties and I hope to
entertain and educate and will welcome comments and questions. I'll try to post interesting
travel related items on a frequent basis and will post super deals as they become available.

I'll also be promoting any special group sailings that we have scheduled. Everyone is welcome
to join our merry band of travelers.

A little background information about me. I joke about the fact that I've been selling cruises
since Carnival only had one ship. I've cruise at least 100 times and have sampled a wide
variety of ships. My agency, Cruise Vacation Specialist, has been an active member of
CLIA (Cruise Lines Intl. Assoc.) for 13 years and I'm a ACC - that's an Accredited Cruise Counselor and also an Alaska Specialist. I have a couple of outside sales counselors Michelle and Monte, and we work with groups or individual travelers through all of the cruise lines.

We also do package tours (airfare, hotel, transfers or rental cars and other related items) through a number of tour operators but can't do regular airline tickets.

I'm the substitute editor of Clark Howards e Scape newsletter and I fill in when Clara needs a
day off. Back when Clark was with his former radio station I filled in for him on a regular basis
and then took over the Travel Show there when he moved to his current home at WSB. He really is the nicest man you could ever meet and truly is thrifty. I hate to use the word cheap and this goes back to many years ago when I had sales training and we were forbidden to use that word.

So this is just the beginning and I hope you check back often.