The best time to buy your Royal Caribbean drink package is now

If you’re going on a Royal Caribbean cruise, you may be thinking of buying one of the cruise line’s all-inclusive drink packages for your trip. There are four options for drink packages in a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic options, and each has a per-day price, plus gratuities.

While there is a set price for these packages, Royal Caribbean does run frequent sales on these beverage packages, meaning that you can pay different prices for your drinks package depending on when you buy it. Doesn’t seem quite fair, right?

But here’s the good news: Even if the price of your drink package goes down after you buy it, you can still get the lower price. I wrote in this blog post about the simple process of canceling your previous Cruise Planner purchases. If you see that the price of your beverage package has changed, simply follow these steps to cancel your original purchase and re-purchase at the new price.

A couple of tips to get the best price for your drink package:

  • Go ahead and purchase your drink package once you set up your online account. Make sure to note the price you’ve paid for the entire package, including gratuity.
  • Don’t be fooled by Royal Caribbean’s sales and promotions (Buy One Get One 50% off, 30% off, etc). Simply focus on the end price you’re being charged for the entire amount of the drink package.
  • If you get an email about or otherwise see a promotion about a sale on beverage packages, go to the Cruise Planner and go through the steps to re-purchase the package. Compare the new price to what you paid and if the new price is lower, follow the steps to cancel your old purchase and buy the package again at the new price. (Remember to look at the full price, not the per-day price or the discounts being offered.)

Royal Caribbean traditionally has a big sale on pre-cruise purchases on Black Friday/Cyber Monday. While some people might wait in the hopes of purchasing on this deal, I say it’s not worth the risk that you might get busy with holiday festivities and forget to make this important purchase. That’s why I say that the best time to buy your Royal Caribbean drink package is now! You can always get a lower price later.

Kids Sail Free? Not quite…

…or at least, not always.

I book a lot of my clients on Royal Caribbean, and with good reason — I’m a frequent cruiser of the line myself, and because of my good experiences, I always feel comfortable recommending Royal’s wide variety of ships and itineraries.

I have to admit, though, some of Royal’s marketing strategies really drive me up the wall as a travel agent. For example, the popular “Kids Sail Free” promotion only applies to certain cruise sailings, not that you’d know that from the website.

Another popular promotion on the Royal site is the “BOGO” sale – Buy One Get One 50% off, or sometimes even 60% off. What a lot of people don’t know is that this discount is reflected in the price that you seen on Royal Caribbean’s website, and doesn’t add additional discounts to the prices that you see online.

These sales are confusing, to be sure! That’s another reason why it’s good to work with a travel agent: We can help you parse through all the marketing promotions and get the absolute best price for your cruise vacation (kids or no kids).

Now, don’t get me started on the pricing of Royal Caribbean’s drink packages…that’s another story (blog post) entirely….

Cruise the Med with the Nerdy Traveler!

I’m really excited to be organizing a group cruise next May on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. This Oasis-class ship is due for a drydock and refurbishment in March 2020 and will have tons of new features added, as you can see in this video produced by the cruise line.

When booking opened for Allure’s summer sailings in the Mediterranean — roundtrip from Barcelona with stops in Spain, France, and Italy — I scooped up some cabins at the group pricing level, which offers a significant savings over the current pricing. For instance, the group’s interior cabin rate of $999 per person, including taxes and fees, saves over $300 per person over the current pricing from Royal Caribbean!

We also have some cabins available at the group pricing for the Central Park Balcony ($1242 per person) and Ocean View Balcony ($1412 per person). If these prices aren’t enough to tempt you, we’ll also be planning some fun group activities and excursions, which you’d be invited to participate in if you’re part of our group. (You don’t have to if you don’t want to, of course…but as I wrote in a previous post, group cruises are great for a lot of reasons.)

You can contact me at cruises@lovetotravel.com if you’d like more info or to book one of these cabins. I hope you’ll join us!

What your travel agent needs to know

I’ve been working as a cruise travel agent for about two years now, and I’ve learned that the process of talking with clients about potential vacations can go a lot more smoothly if they know what kind of information to give me. Based on my experience, here’s what your travel agent wants to know about you so she can help you book your perfect cruise:

When do you want to travel? But more than that, when CAN you travel? If you have kids in school (that you don’t want to take out of school), or if you have a restricted job like an accountant, I need to know that so I don’t waste our time with sailings that won’t work for you.

How flexible are you in your timing? Can you go last minute? It really helps for me to know where you live – for instance, I can tell you that trying to fly from Kansas City to south Florida in March is a fool’s errand – the tickets are outrageously expensive. But if you live in a place like North Carolina, like I do, and you don’t mind driving to the cruise ports in Florida (I don’t mind!), that’s helpful for me to know.

Are there any places you’ve been before or cruise lines that you’ve sailed on before? If so, tell me what you like and (especially) what you don’t like. If you don’t like the Bahamas, or the Southern Caribbean, makes sure you tell me that up front – even if you sort of like something, and you just aren’t sure that you want to do it again.

What’s your budget? Everyone hates this question, but honestly if you only want to spend about $5000 for your trip and I price you something that’s $10,000, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. If you want to (and it helps you feel better about spending lots of money), tell me how much you want to spend per person, per day, etc.

In your mind, what’s the ideal vacation? Is it relaxing or exciting? Do you want to try new foods and drink? Do you want to do daredevil things like rope courses and ziplines, or do you want to sit on a beach? For that matter, do you want a beach/island vacation, or a scenic one (Alaska, Norway), or a history one (Europe)?

Finally, the logistics. We can’t get you a quote unless we know how many cabins you need, how many people will be in each cabin, and what their ages are at the time of the sailing.

I’m going to ask you a lot of questions, inevitably, as we plan your vacation. But providing me with this information ahead of time will really help get the ball rolling on getting you hooked up with your dream vacation!

Saving money on your pre-cruise purchases

If you’re lucky, in the months leading up to your cruise, the cruise line will run a sale on pre-cruise purchases such as beverage packages, specialty dining, and shore excursions. This post will talk specifically about Royal Caribbean, but the same principle applies to all lines: When the price of something you’ve already purchased drops, the only way to get the new price is to cancel the previous purchase and re-purchase at the lower price.

The first step is to find the place on the site where you can see your prior purchases. On Royal Caribbean, this is called your “Order History” and it’s located at the top right of the screen. Once you click here, you’ll see all the purchases you’ve already made and, if you click on “see order details,” you’ll see what you paid for them.

If the price on the current sale is lower, all you have to do is click “Cancel” and cancel your first purchase. Once you’ve gone through that process, you want to immediately go back to the Cruise Planner and make the purchase at the lower price.

That’s how easy it is! Cheers!

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!

Photo Apr 25, 1 36 49 PM

Last-minute deals, Part 2: How to do it

(You can read Part I about cruise pricing and last minute deals here.)

So, what does all of this mean for you, the aspiring last-minute-deal-getting cruiser? Well, I’ve spent the last few months actively pursuing these deals, and I’ve learned a few things that can help your chances.

  1. Be flexible. There’s a reason that so many people on cruises (especially out of the U.S.) are retired and/or live in Florida! Of course, this isn’t something that everyone can do: People have children or pets to make arrangements for, work schedules that they can’t move around, etc. If you live far from the cruise port, the savings you get for booking a last-minute deal might be gobbled up by the cost of buying airfare at the last minute (this is pretty much what happened with our last-minute Cuba cruise). But if you can be flexible with your travel times, you’ll have more chance of finding a good deal on a last-minute cruise.
  2. Lower your expectations. Understand that you might not get the type of cabin, or the location, that you like or are used to. When you book late, you don’t get a very good selection of available cabins. In order to get the best deals, you might even need to take a guarantee room option (where the cruise line picks your room for you) or take a different type of cabin than you’re used to, like an inside or oceanview room instead of a balcony.
  3. Be open to new possibilities. Let’s say you’re the type of person who always like to cruise in a certain region, or on a certain ship or class of cruise ships. Well, the more you narrow your options, the less likely you are to find that great deal. If you’re open to new options, you might find a better deal – and who knows, you might even find a new favorite cruise destination!
  4. Work with a travel agent. This one might seem a little self-serving, because, well, I am a travel agent. But if your travel agent knows this kind of cruises you’re interested in, and your relative level of flexibility, she can notify you when last-minute deals become available, such as Royal Caribbean’s Going Going Gone rates or Celebrity’s Exciting Deals. (Note: For some reason I don’t quite understand, these sites are quite frequently offline. Try checking back another day.) You can check these deals yourself, of course, or you can sign up for e-mail newsletter from a web site like Cruise Critic. But your travel agent can be your best ally in the search for cruise deals – especially if she’s a natural-born bargain hunter, like me! As travel agents, we can also see which ships have a lot of available cabins – a good piece of information to have as you try to win this supply-and-demand based game.

Happy (bargain) hunting! If you’re interested in working with me to help you find your next cruise, you can fill out this contact form.