Should I buy travel insurance for my cruise?

Travel insurance – like all insurance, really – can seem tricky. But really, it’s just like car insurance, health insurance, etc – you can buy it to cover unexpected expenses during your cruise. The question is, should you? Here are four reasons why I recommend that you should buy travel insurance:

  1. You’re traveling during a dicey time of year, weather-wise. If clients are traveling during hurricane season (August 1-November 30), or leaving a cold part of the country where they’re likely to get snow over the winter months, I always recommend that they take the travel insurance option. During hurricane season, your cruise can be shortened or lengthened by weather – or it may even end up at a different port than you left from! Travel insurance will cover the extra expenses you might incur in a case like this one, such as the need for additional hotels or changes in air travel.
  2. You’re a worrier. Whether you admit it to yourself (and others), like my friend Jill over at FindingJillian, or whether you like to keep it under wraps, if you’re a worrier, you should buy travel insurance. Simply put, insurance will allow you to travel without some of the concerns you might otherwise have about travel interruption, unexpected medical expenses, etc.
  3. You’re going a long way. I always recommend travel insurance to my clients who are going to Alaska, Europe, and other far-from-home areas for their cruise. Why? Because travel insurance will cover your costs to return you home if you run into a medical emergency on your trip – for this alone, I feel like the investment is worth it. I’ll never forget the story of the terminally ill woman who was stranded in a hospital in Alaska, far from her family, because she hadn’t taken out the insurance. (fun fact: One of my grad school classmates wrote this news story!) Which brings me to #4…
  4. You have existing health issues (or are prone to them). Cruising is a great way to travel because it’s low-impact, and it allows a lot of people to see the world who might not be able to travel in other ways. But if you know your health is not great, or that there’s a possibility that something might go wrong on your cruise, always take out the travel insurance. Even if you never use it, you’ll be reassured knowing that you have it.

 

Happy New (Blog) Year!

After a (longer than expected) work-induced hiatus from blogging, I finally sat down today to write one more blog post of 2018 – and set out some goals for blogging in 2019, so I can try to keep myself accountable.

Now that I’m back to work full-time as a college professor, and adding in a part-time gig as a travel agent booking cruises, I’ve found it pretty difficult to find time for the blog. But you know what? Plenty of the other wonderful cruise bloggers I’ve “met” over the past year have full-time jobs and more, and they manage to get it done. I need to do better – and in 2019, I will!

I have a few concrete goals for 2019:

  1. Blog more about my 2018 travels. I took some amazing trips in 2018, largely for the point of blogging about them…and really I didn’t do as much as I could have. Look for more posts about my back-to-back transatlantic cruises and my Norway cruise and first time on P&O Cruises (which I wrote about for Sandra and Chris on their blog Brits on a Ship), among other things.
  2. Post more of my cruise ship pictures, from 2018 and before. I put together a photo gallery of my pics from Norwegian Bliss and I could do so many more of these! I think I’m a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of pictures I have, to be honest!
  3. Write more blog posts with advice for cruisers based on my own experiences. I have a few of these, mostly written to help me in my travel agent business. There’s my series on getting to various ports and my set of posts on pre-cruise planning, among others. But I’m sure there’s more I can write about, if I just sit down and think about it!
  4. Keep up with my 2019 travels. I’m excited to have three cruises planned already – a B2B Southern Caribbean from San Juan in January 2019, and a week-long trip on Allure of the Seas with my best friend in March 2019. I’ve been a little ambivalent about Royal Caribbean’s megaships in the past, so I’m eager to try the experience again and to see what my friend thinks of it, since she’s only been on smaller ships before.

I’m also looking to post on my Instagram account (@_nerdytraveler) more often. If you’re not doing so already, I hope you’ll follow me there and on Twitter (also @_nerdytravler). Happy cruising in 2019 and beyond!

Summer Caribbean cruise deals!

Thursday, June 14, 2018 — Normally, we think of summer as a high season for cruises: Kids are out of school, families are taking vacations together — even college professors like me have some time to take off and enjoy a cruise.

A busy season for cruising wouldn’t often be one in which you could get a deal – but with increasing capacity (more cruise ships with more cabins), there are still some summer deals to be found. If you have some flexibility in the next two months and want to head off on a week-long Caribbean cruise, here are two examples of some great deals going on right now – contact me if you’d like to hear more!

  • Celebrity Equinox 7-day sailings out of Miami on 7/14/18, 7/28/18, and 8/18/18, with a base cruise fare of only $799 per person (does not include taxes or fees) for a balcony room. This is a great deal on one of Celebrity’s Solstice-Class ships with July sailings to the Western Caribbean (Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Grand Cayman) and an August sailing to the Eastern Caribbean (San Juan, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten). Prices are only available through Monday, 6/18/18.
  • Norwegian Getaway 7-day sailings out of Miami to the Western Caribbean ports of Roatan, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and NCL’s private island Harvest Caye in Belize. These sailings are similarly priced but include NCL’s signatures perks including a free drinks package, free specialty dining, free wifi, and credits toward shore excursions. Deeply discounted rates without the perks are also available with prices for inside cabins as low as $650 including taxes and fees – wow! Included sailings for this sale are on 7/22/18, 7/29/18, 8/5/18, 8/12/18, 8/19/18, and 8/26/18. Prices are only available through Thursday, 6/21/18. 

As is always the case with last-minute deals like these, you have to act fast – prices and availability are limited. Contact me ASAP or email jessalynn@thenerdytraveler.com and include your phone number so I can give you a call and discuss these great deals with you. 🙂 I’d be on one of these sailings myself if my schedule for the next two months wasn’t already so booked up!

The dreaded “solo supplement”: myths and truths (Part 2)

Let’s face facts: It’s (usually) more expensive to cruise by yourself than it is to cruise with someone else (or multiple someone elses). And while I understand the reason for that, it doesn’t really seem fair at all, especially when you’re not particularly traveling solo by choice. Believe me, as someone who was single until I was almost 35 years old, I get it!

If you’re traveling by yourself, here are a few things you can do to travel solo and still keep your costs reasonable:

  1. If you can, be flexible in your travel dates. I’ve written before about how flexibility and the ability to travel last-minute are your best weapons in the fight to find lower cruise fares. Some cruise lines will reduce or even remove the cost of the second passenger on close-in cruises. Usually this is only for cruises only about one or two weeks out though, so it also helps to live close to a cruise port, so you don’t blow your last-minute savings on expensive airfare.
  2. Be vigilant on checking fares, and/or engage a travel agent to help you with this. I booked my first solo cruise, a 4-day Bahamas cruise on Majesty of the Seas, when I noticed that the price had dropped to a very reasonable $184.00 per person, which made my total cost as a solo cruiser around $400. This price is definitely an outlier: The cruise was on December 4th, which is a traditionally slow time for cruising; the price I saw when I booked didn’t last very long, likely because a number of people had the same idea that I did! But that leads me to my next suggestion…
  3. If you want to cruise solo, target times of the year that are traditionally slow so that you can find the lowest prices for your cruise fare. In the US, this tends to be the times between New Year’s and Spring Break (mid-January to early March), the dreaded second half of the hurricane season (mid-September to late October), and post-Thanksgiving through the holiday season (late November to mid-December).If cruise prices are low to start, you’ll find that paying a double fare isn’t quite so painful. For instance, the hubby and I took advantage of a sale and booked a 7-night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas that came to a ridiculously low total price of $898. Even for one person, that would have been a deal – plus that one person would have gotten double Crown and Anchor loyalty points! Which leads to another point:
  4. Consider a studio cabin – these are cabins that are designed (and priced) specifically for single occupancy – but consider carefully. Norwegian Cruise Lines has made a point of including studio cabins on its new build ships, and these are good options for solo travelers. (I was in one for 12 nights myself and found it to be perfectly pleasant.)However, the number of solo cabins is limited, so the dynamics of supply and demand aren’t always in the solo traveler’s favor, especially on popular sailings. You might actually find it cheaper to pay the extra fare in a (double occupancy) inside cabin than to pay the studio rate. (This was the case on my Bliss sailing, but I stuck with the studio because I wanted to check out that kind of cabin.)

    Studio cabins can save you some money over paying the extra fare in a double-occupancy room, but if you’re loyal to a particular cruise line, they may not be the best bang for your buck. On my Majesty cruise, I received double Crown and Anchor points for traveling solo in a traditional double room, which allowed me to reach the Diamond level in Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program. If you calculate the number of points earned per dollar spent, you’ll find it’s much more efficient to pay double in a traditional room; however, on a longer or more expensive cruise, this might simply put the trip out of your price range. And we wouldn’t want to do that!

Just as a reminder, I’m not only a travel blogger, I’m also a travel agent! So if you’re interested in learning more about opportunities for solo travel, you can fill out this form and I’ll be happy to help you find your best options for a solo cruise. You can also follow me on Facebook, where I’ll be posting last-minute and solo travel deals.

The dreaded “solo supplement”: myths and truths

I’ve been extremely lucky to put my career as a college professor on hold for a year while I get started as a travel agent and do some (pretty fun) research about all sorts of cruise experiences. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m a pretty big fan of cruising solo.

I’m certainly not the only one who likes cruising alone – you can read plenty of blog posts about how to make the most of your solo cruise, including specific tips for solo cruisers on Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines. (Both of these lines offer solo cabins for cruisers, such as the studio cabin I had on my Norwegian Bliss transatlantic cruise, which you can see in the picture at the top of this post.)

What I wanted to talk about today is the thing we don’t like to talk about, especially if we like to travel a lot: Money.

I think it helps a lot to think about the business of cruising, something I allude to in my post about finding deals on last-minute cruises. The cruise industry has built itself around the premise of double occupancy – that is, that each 2-person cabin will be occupied by two people.

Sometimes, of course, a cabin will be occupied by more than two people: When a family brings kids, for instance, or when more budget-conscious cruisers decide to put three or four people in a room to cut down on costs. Often, though, you’ll find that third and fourth passengers are heavily discounted or even free – this becomes cost-effective for the cruisers, but not really too great for the cruise company’s bottom line.

It’s easy to compare a cruise ship cabin to a hotel room: We don’t pay any differently to have one or two people stay in a hotel. But of course, the costs to the company of a cruise ship passenger extend much farther than the costs of a hotel room occupant (food, staff in the kids clubs, extra use of resources like toilet paper, etc). The cruise line is willing to discount third and fourth passengers because often they’re kids, and frankly, no one is probably going to pay full price to jam four people into a 180-sq-ft cabin no matter how great the cruise is.

But here’s where things get tricky: When a cruise ship cabin is occupied by only one person, instead of two, the problem isn’t that the cruise company uses additional resources. It’s that the company doesn’t recoup its expected costs, which it plans to use to pay staff like waiters and stewards and do all of the other things it needs to do to run the cruise, because it only has one paying customer in the cabin, not two.

Because of this, many cruise lines will charge what’s often known as a “single supplement” or “solo supplement” to account for the expected fare that’s not being paid by a second passenger. In truth, I think this is a bad way to look at it: Really, you’re just paying for a second person, even though that person isn’t actually there. (You do pay the fare, but not the taxes and port fees, which is why cruising single is often roughly double the cost of cruising with someone else.)

As a solo cruiser myself, I’d love it if the cruise lines would change their policies to be more in line with the hotel industry, but I understand why it’s not possible. So in the next post, I’ll look at what you can do to book a solo cruise that’s affordable and realistic.

Interested in booking a solo cruise? See more on my website or click here to contact me for more information.

Transatlantic on the cheap

I’ve just returned from my 12-day inaugural voyage on the Norwegian Bliss, and I have tons of pictures to process and blog posts to write about this fantastic ship. But first, I have a confession to make:

*whispers* I’m going on another transatlantic cruise…and I leave tomorrow.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy. But hear me out: I was able to make this cruise so cheap that I almost couldn’t afford to stay at home! Here’s how I did it.

First of all, timing was everything. I’ve written before about how to find cheap cruise fares, and about how transatlantic voyages — where a cruise line repositions its ships from the Caribbean to Europe for the season and vice versa — are often a great opportunity to play the supply-and-demand pricing game to your advantage. I booked this cruise, on Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas, at the beginning of February for a May 6 sail date.

Getting this deal did require a bit of vigilance on my part. I had identified the Jewel TA (often used as an abbreviation for transatlantic, which is a bit long) as one that I was interested in because I’ve been on the ship and loved it, and it featured a lot of new-to-me ports. I wound up watching the price pretty closely for two weeks at the end of January into the beginning of February before I caught the price drop and decided to seal the deal.

Transatlantic cruises can be tricky because they involve one-way airfare between Europe and the U.S., usually, and such things can be pricey. (Working with your travel agent or the cruise lines, however, you might be able to get a reasonable deal here.) In our case, we needed two one-way flights: From our home in North Carolina to San Juan, where Jewel has been homeported, and back to the US from Europe after the cruise was over.

I’ve found that one-way tickets are maybe your best use of frequent-flier miles and points, and that’s what we did: I used American Express Membership Rewards points to buy our tickets to San Juan, and Delta SkyMiles to buy our tickets back to the U.S. Using miles especially helps you avoid the penalty that often comes with buying one way travel (although this isn’t nearly so bad as it used to be).

At the risk of being one of “those people,” I’m excited to share that the up-front cost of our 14 night cruise on the Jewel (in a balcony cabin, no less!), including taxes, fees, and airfare, was under $2000 for the hubby and I! We’ll be stopping along the way in the Canary Islands, Gibraltar, and twice in Spain (Alicante and Valencia). I’m looking forward to mornings on the balcony writing lots of blogs to share with everyone about my (nearly a) month on the high seas!

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12 days on a cruise ship…alone??

As you know from this blog, I plan most of my cruises at pretty short notice. We booked our cruise to Cuba just one week before departure, and most of our recent cruises have been booked around 2-3 months ahead of time. (I find that this is a great way to find deals on cruises with a lot of rooms left to fill!)

But in February 2017, I did something unusual: I booked a cruise for a whole 12+ months ahead of time. The sailing was the inaugural transatlantic of the newly built Norwegian Bliss. I picked this ship and this trip for a few reasons, but one of the main ones was that I wanted to check out Norwegian’s solo cabins, which can be found (in abundance!) on the Bliss and other new-build Norwegian ships including Escape, Breakaway, and Getaway.

At the point where I decided to take the cruise on the Bliss, I’d never cruised solo before. So as a sort of test cruise, I took a short 4-night cruise by myself on the Majesty of the Seas – and I loved it! Now, it’s important to say that I do love traveling with other people – cruising is a great way to spend time with friends, and I love cruising with my husband, who had never cruised before we met a few years ago. But any kind of traveling with another person requires some planning, and some compromising – and sometimes, to be honest, I just don’t want to do that!

As I’m writing this blog post, I’m on day 3 of my 12-day transatlantic on the Bliss. So far, it’s been a lovely, relaxing time – and this has been a great ship for exploring. I’m planning to use the time on our nine (!) sea days to write up plenty of blog posts and share lots of pictures with you!

Researching your port stops

There are a lot of reasons I love cruising, but one of the main ones is that I LOVE doing research on what I should do in each of my port stops. After all, I’m a nerd! As I’m planning for my upcoming transatlantic cruise on the new Norwegian Bliss, I thought I’d do a blog post to tell you about how I research and make plans for my days in port.

You always have the option to book shore excursions through the cruise line, and sometimes – when I’m in a new port or a new part of the world – I’ll do this, for a few reasons. It’s easy – I don’t have to do a lot of work; I just log into the web site and pick my trips through the online pre-cruise planner. When you book through the cruise line, you know that the ship will always wait for you if your excursion is delayed returning.

But I’ve had good and bad experiences with shore excursions through the cruise line, and for that reason, I often try to make my own plans.

If I decide to do my own research, I start with a simple Google search. For my Bliss transatlantic, I only have two stops: Ponta Delgada, Azores and Halifax, Nova Scotia. I began my research on Ponta Delgada with a Google search for “Ponta Delgada cruise port.” I find that adding the words “cruise port” to my search helps to refine the results so that I get specific advice for stopping in a location on a cruise ship vs. taking a land-based vacation.

Often I’ll find that one of the top results is a port information page from the website Cruise Critic. Cruise Critic is an excellent resource for planning your port stops and you can also visit their cruise port specific message boards to read about other people’s experiences in those ports.

Occasionally, your Google search will turn up a real gem. In this case, I found this extremely helpful Ponta Delgada guide from a website called Tom’s Port Guides. Now, being an academic/nerd, I know that it’s always important to check out your sources to make sure they’re reliable, so I looked on this site (as I always do) for an About Us page to learn more about the site. Turns out these well-done guides are created by a guy who loves to travel and likes to create travel guides for his favorite cruise ports. Thanks, Tom!

Next, I’ll do a Google search for the name of the port with the word “blog” swapped in for “port.” This will help me find blog posts from people like myself who like to write about their travels. It’s important to check the dates on these posts to make sure that they’re current, and of course with any travel blog, it’s important to remember that the author’s experiences and decisions might be different from your own. I was fortunate to find this fantastic description of Ponta Delgada from TravelShopGirl and now feel like I have a great idea what to expect from my day in Ponta Delgada!

Should you cruise on a Oasis-class ship?

Royal Caribbean has recently introduced its fourth Oasis-class (read: big) cruise ship, the Symphony of the Seas. She joins her sister ships Oasis, Allure, and Harmony of the Seas, and the four ships share a number of common characteristics.

One of my first Royal cruises was on Allure of the Seas in 2015. It was a transatlantic, and we loved it – we had eight sea days, and we never ran short of things to do. It was almost like we’d moved to a new city! We had different restaurants to eat at every day and there was always something to do – go to the gym, go to the casino, participate in the onboard activities, etc. The entertainment was fantastic – Allure’s performance of Mamma Mia was just as good as the one I saw in the West End in London. The variety of public spaces on the Oasis-class is also one of my favorite things about the class – I love the Central Park area myself, but I can see where if I had kids, I would want to take them to the Boardwalk. Just look at that carousel!

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One of the things that surprised me about the Oasis-class ships was that they didn’t feel overly crowded. On our Harmony cruise, we had three sea days, where all passengers were on board. Even still, we often found decks full of empty chairs, and we didn’t really see a huge crowd in the Windjammer until the very last day.

As much as I loved our two Oasis-class cruises, I’m not sure I would recommend this kind of ship for everyone. On our most recent cruise, on Harmony of the Seas, the hubby and I agreed that, well,  it didn’t really feel like we were on a cruise ship. Everything on the ship seemed to face in, not out, and there were very few places we had to just sit and look at the ocean. (We didn’t have an oceanview or outside balcony room.) We still enjoyed our experience, of course – the entertainment was still stellar, and we feel like the range of specialty restaurants on the Oasis class ships is a real bonus. But the size of the ship felt like a real inconvenience on Harmony, because our room was all the way at the front of the ship – I felt like we spent so much of our time walking down the hallway to our cabin.

So let’s answer the question: Should you go on an Oasis-class ship? I decided to become a travel agent in large part because I love helping people find the right cruise for them. With that in mind, I think going on an Oasis-class ship is good for you if:

  • You love entertainment on your cruises. With Broadway-style shows and a variety of music venues, there’s always something to watch or listen to on the Oasis class of ships.
  • You’re traveling with a bigger group, or with kids. Your group will never get bored and will always have a place to hang out, and your children will love the variety of slides and rides, not to mention the ship’s dedicated children’s activities.
  • You like fine dining – the Oasis class has some of the best specialty restaurants in the fleet. Our meal at 150 Central Park on Harmony of the Seas was one of the best I’ve ever had! (You can read my post on getting this dining at a discount here.)
  • You love seeing the latest and greatest the cruise industry has to offer. The Oasis-class ships are the newest and primarily they have all the bells and whistles.
  • You like an energetic vacation with a lot of activities – as I said, you’ll never be bored on an Oasis-class ship (even if you spend eight days at sea like I did!).

While the ships in the Oasis class are great options, they might not be the best fit for some cruisers – and that’s okay! If the following describes you, you might want to think about taking a cruise on an older, smaller ship:

  • You like to sit on a lounge chair and look out at the ocean. Sure, the bigger ships do have lounge chairs (you just saw pictures of them earlier), but you’ll find significantly less places where you can do this on the newer ships.
  • You don’t like to walk a lot, or have difficulty walking a lot. The big ships are, well, big. You might find that you spend a lot of time walking from one end to another, or planning your day so you don’t have to do so – and that’s not always what you want to have to do when you’re on vacation.
  • You consider yourself an “old-school” cruiser. This point might be a little controversial, and certainly I’ve met plenty of long-time cruisers on Oasis-class ships that love these new ships. But these new, big ships often attract a different breed of cruiser, one who doesn’t much care for the traditional formalities such as dress codes in the dining room (you’ll see a lot of shorts). If that’s something that bothers you, then maybe the Oasis-class ships aren’t for you.

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Would I book another cruise on an Oasis-class ship? You bet I would, especially to see Mamma Mia or Hairspray (on Allure or Symphony), eat at 150 Central Park, etc. As a travel agent, though, I just think it’s important that people know what they’re getting into. If you’re interested in finding out more about the Oasis class or booking a cruise, click here to contact me!

Should you (still) go to Maya Chan? YES!

I was excited to return to the port of Costa Maya, a relatively new stop on my cruise radar. This purpose-built port is designed for cruise ships and their passengers and the surrounding area has a ton to offer — Mayan ruins, swimming with dolphins, cultural tours, etc. Mostly, I was excited because my friend and I had a reservation at Maya Chan beach, which I’d heard great things about.

The resort sent detailed instructions on how to get to the pickup site – one big advantage of Maya Chan is that transportation is included in your all-inclusive fee, which is not always the case. We had to walk out of the port and through a security gate – a little daunting! – and then another two blocks up on the right, we found the sign for the Maya Chan representative. This is where we were met with a bit of a dilemma:

It seems we had run into a bit of bad luck. The beach was experiencing a high amount of seagrass that day, something they told us often happens in the winter months. The representative explained that they had been cleaning throughout the morning, but that there was still a lot of seagrass on the beach and in the water. He told us that we still had the opportunity to cancel our reservation and receive a refund if we didn’t want to go because of this.

My friend looked at each other and decided to go to Maya Chan anyway – I’d really been looking forward to checking out the place, and I like to visit somewhere myself before I recommend it to other people. (If you’d like to, you can read some other blogs’ opinions of Maya Chan here and here.) What’s the matter with a little seagrass, anyway? (Answer: it’s kind of slimy, and it does tend to attract a lot of gnats. But hey, whatever.)

Even with the sliminess and the bugs, we definitely made the right decision by sticking with our plan to go to Maya Chan. As the blog posts I’d read ahead of time mentioned, it was definitely a rough ride over to the beach, but we’d been warned, and I knew it was worth putting up with. We were met at the entrance by an employee who told us that the worst of our day was over, and that we wouldn’t even notice the bumps on the way back after we’d enjoyed the beach and a few cocktails. Spoiler alert: She was right! Haha.

As other reviews of Maya Chan have mentioned, the service here is really exceptional. We were greeting with a snack of guacamole and chips and a rum punch, and the drinks flowed freely from there. They even have a floating bar out in the water, as well as some floating chairs that are anchored down so you can relax with a cocktail in your hand. We were set up in an amazing spot just next to the bar and right by the ocean.

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As good as the service at Maya Chan is, the real standout is the lunch, a freshly prepared make-your-own-taco bar. This is possibly some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten, and its flavors are a welcome change from cruise ship food, which can be somewhat institutional at times. If you come to Maya Chan for the day, make sure to come hungry!

So if you’ve also had our bad luck and run into a spell of seagrass, and the rep asks if you still want to go to Maya Chan, you should definitely say YES! You need to make a reservation for Maya Chan and you can do so at the website. It’s a popular destination and they do sell out, so make sure to make your reservations early so you’re not disappointed!