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Friday, November 17, 2017

Ah, Shipboard Credit!

That wad of money burning a hole in our cargo shorts’ pocket! How do you get some? And what do you do with it once you get it? Oh, the possibilities!

Let’s start with:

How can you get some
Watch the cruise line promotions. These come via email if you sign up on their websites. Don’t feel like filling up your inbox? Stop by their site from time to time—the sales are often blazoned across their homepage (Princess) or can be found under a menu category such as Deals (Royal Caribbean).

Be a member of the military. Princess will thank you by giving you credit for current or past service. You’ll need to send proof of eligibility, such as a military verification certificate. (Retired military requirement is a minimum of 20 years of service.)

Become an owner. Royal Caribbean (RCI) will give you credit for being a shareholder (you need at least 100 shares). Note there’s a form you need to send along with proof of ownership (proxy card or broker statement).

Ask your travel agent. They’re often willing to give you onboard credit, but you usually have to ask. My line goes like this: “Is there any shipboard credit available with this cruise?”

Booking onboard. If you book a cruise while you’re already on one, its’ more than likely shipboard credit will be thrown in as an extra inducement for your commitment.

Get credit two ways. Sign up for a RCI Visa® credit card and they throw in onboard credit of $100.

Refer a friend. Royal Caribbean will give Crown & Anchor loyalty club members $25 onboard credit for each stateroom your friends book on your cruise. They have to be first-time cruisers to qualify. Register for the credit by logging into Crown & Anchor on RCI’s website and selecting Bring a Friend.

How much is it?
The amounts usually vary by the length of your trip; generally $25-75 per person during promotions for a seven-day cruise.

The fun part
How are you going to spend it? Practically any way you choose! Consider:

Getting slathered and soothed in the ship’s spa…

Dining à la deux with a specialty meal…



Keeping up with the scores with Internet service…



Having someone else do your laundry (boring!)…

Getting Labadoozied at RCI’s Haitian Labadee…

Enjoying your java with something a bit stronger…



Posing in your finest and having it framed… 



Getting the DVD that’s way better than what you did with your smartphone…

Learning to shake not stir or steer the ship…

Parasailing over the sea or scuba diving underneath it…



Drinking when the sun comes up and when it goes down…


Ordering a celebration package to do up your stateroom in style…

Buying some trinkets in the ship store for the folks you left behind…




Or bringing some home just for you!

The best part

You have to use it—or you lose it!

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Good Ship Lollipop


"It's a sweet trip to a candy shop"...
at Candy Beach on Allure of the Seas
“On the Good Ship Lollipop 
It’s a night trip into bed you hop 
And dream away 
On the Good Ship Lollipop.” 

– “The Good Ship Lollipop” by R. Whiting and S. Clare

When chocolates started disappearing from our pillows, was that the end of our candy on cruises?

Nah! Those little silver-coated bedtime treats may be gone, but there’s still “good & plenty” of sweets on your next Good Ship Lollipop.

Why, you many wonder, with all the food onboard, do we really need candy too?

Well, the kids want it. And sometimes, we do too. So, while our pillows no longer come sugar-coated, the cruise lines still find ways to deliver the goods:

Onboard shops
Princess: The Celebration shop on Regal and Royal Princess – Visibly planted in the atrium, the store’s shelves are lined with boxes of creamy Norman Love chocolates and Godiva. Some are in just-for-cruisers packaging and make great gifts.

"Happy landing on a chocolate bar"...on the Regal Princess
Royal Caribbean (RCI): Candy Beach Sweets – The Boardwalk neighborhood shop on Oasis class ships is chock-full of penny-candy-ish and carnival-style colorful sweets.
 
"On the sunny beach of Peppermint Bay"...on Allure of the Seas
Disney: Vanellope’s Sweets and Treats – The Disney Dream features a dessert shop with gelato, baked treats, chocolate lollipops and other confections.

The convenience stores
Craving a Snickers? A bag of Gummy Bears? You might just find one in the convenience store shop. You know which one I mean—where all the shirts have the ship’s logo and the first aid cream is twice what it costs at Walgreens.

The buffets
Celebrity’s Oceanview Café buffet is legendary for its ice cream bar, where you can get several flavor choices, with M&Ms and other goodies to top off your scoop. In fact, according to Cruise Critic, you can hold the ice cream completely and just get a cup ‘o candy.

"See the sugar roll do the tootsie roll"...in Celebrity's Oceanview Cafe
Our last trip on RCI’s Allure of the Seas surprised us with a chocolate breakfast bar in the Windjammer, complete with chocolate fountain and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Sweets in a package
RCI, Princess and Disney all feature celebration packages* you can order online to enjoy onboard to celebrate an event, a romance or add something special to your trip. Here’s just a sampling of what they offer:

Princess
Anniversary package – Dinner for two at a specialty restaurant, champagne, framed photo, roses and a box of Norman Love chocolates.

“Kid’s Party Package” – Stanley the Stowaway Bear, inflatable Princess ship and a pack of Gummy Bears.

Royal Caribbean
Decadent Romance Package – Champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries, Belgian truffle collection and a bouquet of roses.

Disney
“Romance for 2” – Two Disney Cruise Line robes, a bottle of sparkling wine, a box of chocolate and a rose.

“Ahoy Matey” – Edible dark chocolate treasure chest filled with candy coins, an edible Mickey pirate head, chocolate bark treasure map and more.

Still not convinced that cruising and candy go together like chocolate and peanut butter? Consider this: the new Symphony of the Seas will not only still feature the Boardwalk candy store, but like the ship itself, it will be bigger than ever.


* Not available on all ships

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Cruising the Web, Part Two

This posting could also have been titled, “So Many Cruise Sites, So Little Time.” With 25 million cruisers today¹, so many cruise sites have sprung up, competing for your attention (including mine!). How do you know where to go to plan your trip?

I’m going to help by sharing some of the more useful ones so you don’t have to wade through them all:

Decking it out. Picking a stateroom can be torture, particularly if you’re trying to do it with those
A website is so much easier!
impossible-to-read deck plans in cruise line catalogs. Luckily, there are some good sites out there that make this much easier, such as:
  • Cruisedeckplans.com not only has deck plans you can actually read, but when you hover over a stateroom, you get a generic description and layout. Click on camera icons for a snapshot of the area a cruiser submitted. Note that camera icons in orange are photos available only if you pay a site registration fee ($8.99 a year).

  • Cruisemapper.com also has large deck plans and is particularly useful, say, if you’re interested in staying on the Central Park deck of a Royal Caribbean Oasis class ship and want to see where the room lines up in relation to the restaurants and elevators. There’s also an easy-to-read legend of which rooms connect, have sofa beds and other features.

Know where you’re going. Cruiseportadvisor.com is a good site for information about the ports and what to do there. Especially helpful are descriptions of where ships dock and how to get into town.

Another is www.tomsportguides.com, which has info and maps on the ports, and more. One neat feature is you can download and print PDF port guides.
 
Aruba is one of  the ports featured in tomsportguides.com

Almost like being there. Probably the best way to get a feel for a ship or port is to view videos on YouTube. Now mind you, some of them are not too useful—indeed, a few will make you downright dizzy. But if you have the patience to sift through them, you’ll be rewarded with some great information and what words or photos can’t do—evoke the ambience and sounds.

There’s also the webcams, which are real-time views of the ports. Alas, there’s generally just one camera focused on just one spot, but they’re fun just the same. One of the largest collections of port cams is at Larrysvacationwebcams.com.

Everything else you need to know. The granddaddy site of them all is cruisecritic.com, with regular news, and extensive cruise ship and port reviews. Another especially worthwhile site is cruiseradio.net, which features a wide range of informative podcasts.

Yet another is cruisefever.net, with news, ports, price drops, webcams and ship reviews. Where it really shines is on its articles, which tackle topics not often addressed in other places, such as “What Happens When You Get Sick or Hurt on a Cruise” and “Five Tips to Keep You Safe While in Port.”

Keep track your ship. Several sites have map trackers, so you can see where your ship is at any given time. Cruiseoutlook.com has a good one; you can search by your ship.

If the sun will shine. Cruiseoutlook.com also has weather forecasts by ship/itinerary, complete with sunrise and sunset (great for planning those sunset photos). You can even switch to metric. Note, however, as with forecasts at home, they can be accurate—or not.
 
Find out when the sun will set and you'll get memorable photos like this one of
Ft. Lauderdale at sail away

Scoping out the scoop. There’s nothing like the forums for the chance to ask any question and get an answer from someone who’s just been there. Or, check out the chats for answers to questions you didn’t think of asking yourself. Cruisecritic.com is the best, with entries every day, all day long, on a wide range of topics—from rooms to drink packages to port excursions to cruise memorabilia.

It’s also a great site for getting information on onboard Meet and Mingle gatherings or joining a roll call for your ship, which connects you with your upcoming cruise fellow travelers.

Then once you join a roll call, you get to see questions like this one recently posted: “Only six months to my cruise. I can’t stand the wait. What do I do?” People actually answer. Maybe you’ll want to too.

Musing's Top Tip: Want to know if your ship is on the refurbishment list? Check out www.cruisehive.com for upcoming dry docks and what you can expect.

¹Cruise Lines International Association, State of the Cruise Industry Outlook 2017

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Trip Insurance: Don’t be Sorry You Booked Without It

Insurance is one of the few things you spend money on but get nothing in return. But be without it when something happens and suddenly, it’s worth way more than you paid for it.

We’ve cruised 21 times and bought trip insurance 21 times. Thankfully, it never got used. But, we wouldn’t dare book a cruise without it.

There are just too many things that can go wrong, as hurricanes Irma and Harvey just reminded us. Your home floods and you need to stay to deal with it…the airport closes and you can’t get a flight out…you come down with pneumonia before the trip or appendicitis after it starts…you’re running late and then get a flat en route to the port…your luggage takes a different plane than the one you’re on…

Insurance ensures that if you can’t make the trip, or something happens before or while you’re at sea, you’ll get something back towards the cost of your trip or help on expenses. Whether your mishap qualifies and/or how much you get back depends on the policy.

The plans
There are two different ways to get travel insurance: cruise line plans or independent insurance companies:

Cruise line plans. Each line offers its own insurance, which is provided by a third party. You can usually find info by putting “protection” in the search tool on the cruise line websites. A good travel agent can also brief you on cost and what’s covered. For your easy reference, here are links to some cruise line plans:


Independent insurance companies. Travel insurance companies such as Travel Guard® offer a number of different policies and prices.

What you should know
A few things you should know about travel insurance:

Read the fine print. This is not the time to let your eyes glaze over—the fine print is what you’re buying. Policies vary widely in how much you’d get reimbursed and under what conditions, and what proof you’d need to provide.

Often, the more expensive the policy, the better the terms. Most policies are pretty specific about what they’ll cover. For example, if you cancel the trip, they may reimburse you for part of the cruise if you get sick, but not if it’s from a pre-existing condition. Or, they may only pay if you get sick, but not if you need to stay home to care for a sick parent.

Cancellations for illness or death are the most common reasons insurance will pay out. There is coverage if you need to cancel the trip for any reason, but even with these plans, there are caveats. So, read the rules very carefully.

Know how much and in what way the reimbursement comes. Find out not only how much of the cruise would be covered if you cancelled, but if the reimbursement is money or credit toward a future cruise.

Be sure you know when payment’s due. Most often, it's at final payment.

Take your insurance documents with you. Print them up, and/or download them to your phone or tablet. You want the documents handy if you need them for reference.

One last thought
Your insurance is only as good as your insurance company. Years ago, the travel company that put together my London trip went belly up while I was there, and the airline wouldn’t honor my ticket home. Make sure the insurance company is financially stable and will be around to pay your claim if you are unfortunate enough to have one.

Friday, September 15, 2017

This Too Shall Pass


In trying to come to grips with what’s befallen the Eastern Caribbean islands many of us have come to know and love, I’ve found comfort in the phrase “this too shall pass.”

My mother used it a lot, when anything went wrong. It’s actually quite old—medieval, in fact, according to Wikipedia. But it’s been used countless times since then, in many different ways. Abe Lincoln once said about the phrase, “How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

Hurricane Irma did, indeed, send parts of the Caribbean into the depths of affliction. But ever the optimist, Abe knew that human determination, compassion, energy and optimism make us what we are and will get us through all kinds of tough times.

The storm may have left in its wake damage and destruction. But, this too shall pass. The islands will rebuild. Their people will recover their spirits. We’ll once again bask in their blue waters. Better days are ahead.

The cruise lines are showing their compassion by providing supplies and funds to help in the recovery. If you want to play a part, Royal Caribbean will match your donation, making your dollar go that much further. And the rebuilding that much faster. Find details on donating on their website.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Location, Location, Location—Pick Your Stateroom as You Would Your Home

What’s the perfect location for a stateroom on a cruise ship?

Well, that depends.

What would you look for in a home? How far it is from work? Is it near good schools? Where’s the closest supermarket? Is the neighborhood quiet?

On a cruise ship, it’s not too different. Maybe you want to know how close your room is to the dining room, buffet or pool. And how far are you willing to trek down that long lonesome hallway to get
somewhere? Does quiet matter?

How far are you willing to walk down this long lonesome hallway on Allure of the Seas?
One thing for sure—like with a home, where your bed is on a cruise ship can impact how happy you’re going to be. 

Decorations won't help if you pick the wrong place
So, you want to give some thought into what you want and time into planning. Here are a few tips on selecting a room:

Know what you want. Prioritize what you want to be close to, and then select a room that's nearest the elevator that will take you there. You don’t have to worry about elevator noise; I haven’t been on a ship yet where a room near the elevator is a problem. Elevators tend to be set away from staterooms.

If it’s quiet you’re after. To find the quietest rooms, avoid adjoining ones (which can draw families) and those across from inside rooms (slamming doors, folks hanging out in their doorways). Pick decks that don’t have these above or below: pools, buffets, restaurants, gyms, jogging track or discos.
 
If it's quiet you're after, don't get a room below the pool...

...or under decks like the Promenade on Navigator of the Seas
And when looking at deck plans, be sure to note empty spaces near rooms—they can be the crew’s linen closet or galley, which can mean a lot of activity early in the morning. Be careful too to avoid baggage areas and laundry rooms.

...or near laundry rooms like the ones on the Regal Princess
Steady as she goes. The parts of the ship with the least amount of movement tend to be mid-ship. If you don’t think location is important, check out how the prices vary—you’ll pay a premium for being in the middle of the ship. And these rooms tend to go faster.

Help for planning. Looking at deck plans can be as fun and easy as reading a camera manual. If you can even read the print (which gets smaller all the time!), it’s hard to know what you’re even looking at. Fortunately, the cruise lines generally have decent online versions. Also consider cruisedeckplans.com for an easier online experience.

Deciphering deck plans can be as fun as studying for finals


The last step. Say you’ve narrowed it down to an actual room, but you want to make sure it’s what you want. You can:

* Call the cruise line for information, but what you get may be limited

* Throw a question out on the cruisecritic.com boards; see especially Cruise Discussion Topics/Cabin Selection Tips

* Google the room number (including the ship name)


One last idea is to scout out the rooms and decks on Disembarkation Day. If you can spare a few minutes, note where you’d want to be—or don’t want to be—should you (hopefully) find yourself on the ship or same class of ship at some point in the future. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Watch for the Signs—Back with More

A while back, I did a posting Watch for the Signs—How the Ports Tease and Tempt You featuring comical and whimsical signs in ports. Well, I’ve had a few trips since then, and the Caribbean locals did not disappoint.

So, here, for your amusement is a new set of signs—look for them when you’re in port:

Everything looks better with a brewski--except the suitcases outside your door
on Disembarkation Eve (St. Maarten)

Don't bother slathering, just start slurping (St. Maarten)
Have I imagined this sign? (St. Thomas)
 Don’t stop what? 😏 (St. Thomas)
Where were you when I needed you? (Antigua)
More like warm cruiser needs frozen drinks (St. Thomas)
Port of Indecision—is that like the Ship to Nowhere? (Falmouth)
Do you have any to share? Drop us a line--we'd love to hear from you--and see your signs!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Got Something to Say About a Cruise? Start a Blog!

Now, I’m no expert. But if you’re reading this, I’m doing something right.

And if I can do it, you can do it.


Why would you want to start a blog? Maybe you want to spread the word about how great cruising is. Or, you had a fabulous experience on a ship or at a port, and you’re bursting to talk about it. Perhaps you love taking photos and need an excuse to get them out of your smartphone camera.

Whatever the reason, there’s no reason not to do it. It’s fun. And you can be as creative as you want to be.

So, how do you get started? I use Blogger—it’s simple and free. You just pick a template and go. Another big benefit is that it’s part of Google Plus. More on this later. See this article on some of the top blog hosting platforms.

What do you write? The quick answer: what others want to read. In other words, if you want to get folks to come to your blog, you need to pick topics that will be popular and write in a way that’s engaging.

And keep it short—use no more words than you need. Use bullet points and bold text for those who prefer to scan.

I saved the most important for last: use a captivating title. Think of yourself—would you read something if the title doesn’t grab you?

What about photos? Definitely. And the bigger, the better. They draw the reader. Think Pinterest. And Instagram. You get the picture. The web has made us more visual than ever. It pains the writer in me to say this, but do more photos and less text.

And other media? Sure! Upload one of your videos to YouTube and link it from your blog. Link to other blogs or websites.

Then what? Just because you post it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. You need to aggressively promote your blog. In fact, getting people to read your blog is more work than creating the blog itself.

If you use Google’s Blogger, once you publish a posting, it automatically posts to Google Plus.

Happily, Cruise Critic, the place for the most robust cruise conversations, allows bloggers to link their postings in their Boards section (see tab on top menu of their website), under Cruise Conversations/Cruise Blogs and Websites.

Travel websites and social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram are also good places to promote your blog. Also consider sites like Feedspot, which consolidates readers’ favorite blog feeds so they can get them all from one place.

Anything else? Join in conversations—not to promote, but to share your knowledge and ask questions. Develop online relationships and readership will follow.

Also, post often. If you want to develop a following, you need to keep writing. If readers don’t see new stuff, you’ll lose them and they might not come back.

A few last words
Think before you post. Posting is public. Anyone can see it, Google it and save it. Be smart about what you say and what you show.

There’s a lot out there. Try searching for “cruise” in a site such as Pinterest. The postings go on and on. If you can find a new and different way to help your blog stand out, you’re more likely to get attention.

See what others do. Study the blogs that you follow; see if you can identify what makes them successful.

If you do launch a blog, let us know how it goes. And if you discover something that works, please share! It's a new world for all of us and there’s something new to learn every day.