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!

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.

 

Gallery

Best of the Bliss!

I’m starting to receive some client inquiries about Alaskan cruises in 2019, which has got me to thinking about my awesome transatlantic cruise on the Norwegian Bliss last April. Along with her sister ship Norwegian Joy, Bliss will be sailing 7-night Alaska cruises out of Seattle starting in late May. Book soon for the best rates!

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.

Going to Mardi Gras…on a cruise?

It’s true: You can go to New Orleans for the famous Mardi Gras celebration on a cruise, thanks to Celebrity Cruises. The hubby and I just returned from Celebrity’s 10-Night Mardi Gras and Caribbean cruise (we also stopped at Grand Cayman and Cozumel) and we agreed that it was a tremendously unique experience. For us, it was also surprisingly affordable – more on that later.

Photo Feb 13, 11 56 14 AM

Our cruise left Ft. Lauderdale on Friday afternoon and took about 48 hours to make it to the port in New Orleans, including a transit of the Mississippi River (unfortunately, it was pretty rainy) that took about 9-10 hours. The ship docks at the convenient Julia Street Cruise Terminal, from which you can walk or take a cab or streetcar to just about anywhere. Your ship is docked for two whole days, from Sunday night until Tuesday night, and as I’ve written about before, having an overnight cruise stop is an awesome experience – incredibly freeing!

Photo Feb 11, 9 20 03 PM

When we arrived in New Orleans at around 7 pm on Sunday night, the parades were in full swing. We were able to walk just a few blocks to see the Bacchus parade, and then we walked to the other side of the French Quarter to visit our favorite jazz clubs on Frenchman’s Street. We came back to our cruise ship a little after 1 am and walked right back on to the ship and back to our cabin – no problem!

IMG_20180212_175723

Over the next two days, we got to see four parades and visit many of our favorite places in the Crescent City (although it’s important to note that a lot of places were closed due to the Mardi Gras celebration). Having the cruise ship as a home base was an excellent way to experience my first Mardi Gras – we could come and go to the ship as we pleased, grab a quick bite in the buffet, or take a few minutes to relax before heading out to experience more of the fun.

IMG_20180212_110424

Now, about the price: I’ll be the first to admit that we were a bit lucky to get such a good deal on this cruise. We booked the cruise in mid-December 2018 (about two months before the sail date) and Celebrity had lowered the prices significantly to fill the rooms on the ship – you find this often happens when the date for final payment has passed and there are still a lot of unsold cabins. We paid a total of $1900 for two people in an inside room for our 10-night cruise; this is a good deal under most circumstances anyway, but when you think about what we might have paid for a hotel room for two nights during the busiest parts of Mardi Gras, the value is even better.

The 2019 cruise, which leaves on March 1, might not offer such a great bargain – March is traditionally a more popular month than February for cruises. The cruise is a great way to visit Mardi Gras at any price, however, and who knows – maybe early January will find some good deals! You can contact me if you’re interested in taking a cruise to Mardi Gras in 2019.

A funny thing happened at the Crown and Anchor loyalty event…

I’ve written before about my love for the Crown and Anchor loyalty events on Royal Caribbean cruises, where the company thanks the highest-level cruisers in its loyalty program. Usually, this entails a few complimentary drinks and an entertainment program of some sort, along with recognition of the cruisers onboard with the most cruise points.

So you can imagine my surprise (in fact, the surprise of nearly everyone in the Royal Theater on Harmony of the Seas) when our cruise director took to the stage and introduced the CEO of Royal Caribbean, Michael Bayley! As a self-confessed cruise nerd, I was more than a teeny bit excited as Mr. Bayley proceeded to announce that he’d be taking questions from the crowd.

In fact, he answered questions – some with great candor, and many with humor – for almost half an hour, during which I furiously took notes on my iPhone. (Note: Maybe all that practice typing for texting was good for something!) He took questions about a wide range of topics, and graciously accepted some suggestions that quite honestly my husband and I rolled our eyes at. A few highlights to me:

  • The company is planning to put a great deal of money (I think it was $800M? But it might have been $500M) into revitalizing older ships in a program he called Royal Amplify. These are going to be very extensive refurbishments, not your usual glossing over. Mariner of the Seas and Independence of the Seas are up first, with Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas to follow in 2019 and 2020.
  • Potential products like cruises from California and Brazil as well as around-the-world cruises were brought up as suggestions, but pretty quickly shot down. Apparently they’re just not profitable, and after all, we are talking about a corporation here, and they’re here to make money (not necessarily friends).
  • One guest asked about the ships getting bigger (ironic/appropriate since we’re on the biggest ship in the fleet, at least for right now) and Mr. Bayley pretty much admitted that size isn’t a limitation in the newer ships being designed. He talked about how the company’s Song of America debuted in 1982 and was said to be “too big” – at 1650 capacity! Bottom line, I don’t see Royal backing down from building megaships any time soon, especially as I’d imagine the financials are more favorable on these larger ships.

Now, of course the CEO of the company doesn’t show up at the loyalty event for every cruise – he told us that he’d boarded our ship the day before to study some of the features of Harmony in anticipation for planning the new Icon class of ships that’s scheduled to debut in the 2020s. It was a true stroke of luck, as our event had originally been scheduled for Day 2 of the cruise, and postponed due to rain. But hey, sometimes you happen to be in the right place at the right time!

More info on my Nerdy Travels in support of tourism recovery

In February 2018, I’ll be taking a two week trip to the Florida Keys and the Eastern Caribbean to promote tourism in the areas hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria and to highlight to need for more tourists to visit these recovering areas.

Interested in getting involved with my efforts to help promote tourism in these storm-hit areas? Here are three things you can do:

  1. Come with me! In addition to its Eastern Caribbean itinerary, with stops in three of the most hard-hit ports, the February 25th sailing of Silhouette was an attractive option because it still has a lot of empty cabins, and it’s only about 6 weeks until the cruise’s departure. Celebrity would rather fill those cabins with people, so they’re offering some great deals, especially if someone in your party is 55 or older! You can email me at jessalynn@thenerdytraveler.com if you’d like pricing details. (For reference, we’re talking about a week-long Celebrity cruise from about $550-$900 per person, including the taxes. If you’ve cruised Celebrity, you know this is a pretty low price!)
  2. Tell me where to go! No, not like that, haha. Part of my planning will involve taking recommendations for locally-owned restaurants, bars, and (for the Keys) hotels to patronize. If you have a favorite beach bar in St. Maarten, seafood restaurant in the Keys, etc., send me a message at jessalynn@thenerdytraveler.com and I’ll do my best to go there, and write about it for the blog, as long as the place has been reopened.
  3. Buy me a beer! No pressure, of course, but if you’d like to subsidize my efforts, I’d happily accept your donations. You can click here to send me money via PayPal. You can combine with #2 and tell me where you’d like me to spend your vicarious tourist dollars. I’ll make sure to include pictures on the blog!

Stay tuned for updates on my travels in late February 2018, right here on the blog.

Announcing the Nerdy Traveler 2018 Tourism Recovery Tour!

As a frequent cruiser for many years, I was heartsick to see the damage done to the islands of the Caribbean by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. While I’ve made some donations to various organizations that have been helping with cleanup, I’ve been thinking for a while that I wanted to do something more to help these places as they recover.

Tourism is a major industry for the Caribbean, as it is for the Florida Keys, which were also devastated by Hurricane Irma. If I can be nerdy for a minute, I was shocked to read that economists have estimated that a 1% drop in tourism can lead to a decline of over $200 million in GDP for the Caribbean.

I’m not going to be able to make up for that drop by myself, of course, but I’d like to do my part to help the Keys and the Caribbean by doing what I do best: Traveling to these places, spending my tourist dollars, and of course – writing about them for the blog!

So, on February 19th, I’m going to head down to the Florida Keys for a few days of exploring — and contributing to the local economy. I’ve been to Key West several times on cruise ships, and while I’ll certainly spend some of my time (and money) there as well, I’m excited to finally explore the middle and upper parts of the Keys – and to help give back to some of the small business owners in the hardest-hit areas.

Then, I’ll head back up to Fort Lauderdale to board the February 25th sailing of Celebrity Silhouette, which makes stops in San Juan, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten – three of the islands that have been hardest hit by the hurricanes. I’m pleased to be sailing on Celebrity, whose parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, played a huge role in helping these islands’ recovery, both in the immediate aftermath of the storms and by bring passengers back in the long term.

(My hubby has graciously agreed to escape the somewhat-chilly North Carolina winters to accompany me on this mission. Am I a lucky gal, or what? 🙂

You can read more here about how you can get involved in my trip. And of course, look for a bunch of blog posts coming at the end of February so you can follow along with my journey!

Majesty of the Seas Live Blog: (Bonus!) Day 6

All in all, my misadventures in travel on Day 5 turned out pretty well, considering that I never actually made it home (or even left the state of Florida, for that matter!). I had a nice room at a hotel I was familiar with, and I’d even managed to pay for it with my Hilton points, meaning I wasn’t out of pocket any additional money. I had a ticket on a direct flight home (well, almost home) on the next day, and it didn’t even leave until the reasonable hour of 11:30 am.

I was feeling pretty good…perhaps, too good? I woke up fairly early on the unexpected day 6 of my trip and packed up my things to head to the airport around 8:30. Sure, I’d be a little early, but Orlando can be a notoriously busy airport, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get there a little early. Indeed, the rash of cancellations on the previous day meant that Delta’s ticket counters were busy and the lines were a little long. I checked my bag again, feeling a strong sense of déjà vu, and went through the security line.

I had been resting comfortably in the Delta Sky Club, posting my Day 5 blog post, for about an hour when I saw the first delay on my flight. Here we go again, I thought, but fortunately for me, Day 6’s flight delays had a much happier ending than Day 5’s. While we were delayed about a half an hour in our departure, we only landed about five minutes after our scheduled arrival time.

I arrived home to a winter wonderland – the weather system that had cancelled my flights on Day 5 was still in full effect, and it snowed for most of our drive home from the airport. Even though it was cold, I was glad to be home. But that doesn’t mean I’m not counting the days until my next cruise!

Read the previous posts in this live blog series: IntroductionDay 1Day 2 (CocoCay)Day 3 (Nassau)Day 4 (Sea Day)Day 5