28 February 2010

Carnival Victory 2004

FOUND IT!!!  My notes on the Carnival Victory....created while on the voyage from Miami to St Maartin in 2004

12Dec 2004

My first glimpse of the ship was from the windows of a Greyhound bus....you know it was just a wonderful looking ship.  You could see the fluke sticking out from the top and it makes you all happy inside.  This ship was going to be fabulous.  It was to be our first balcony cabin....at a price of $2,252.80 for all 4 of us (Grandma, Grandpa, John and me).  Airfare came at a whopping $193 pp from Memphis to Ft Lauderdale.

The Victory is a Triumph class ship....893 feet long and holds 2700 passengers.  She is the perfect size.  Our cabin was perfect as well.  We had of course the standard 4 beds (2 upper and 2 lower  berths), the balcony featured 2 chairs a table and plenty of space to move around.  The door slams every time it closes...BAM!!

This deck was WONDERFUL...a first for me...it featured a tiered look almost like stadium seating.  And the focal point of course is the Carnival water slide.  It is the biggest slide that we have had on a Carnival ship.  It stands at 214 feet long and called the King of the Sea.

There were mosaics throughout the ship...and in walking around I discovered they were made in Italy.  There are crafted in a way that I could only dream of doing.  There was one giant (and I mean giant) mosaic that depicted the Victory ship.  WOW is the only word to describe it.  I think I took about 5 pictures of it the first day that we were onboard.  I even had my photo made next to it.  There were so many mosaics....even the elevators featured them.  The atrium is the most beautiful that I have ever seen too...It is tiffany glass style and just glistens in the lights...it is indeed a marvel.

As soon as the ship left the port and got to a nice cruising speed, I just HAD to go back to the room, lean over the balcony and snap some photos.  I have always wanted to do this.  WE were so close to the water line that I could feel the spray on my face and I could smell the water.  However, this is not always a pleasant odor...so I shall be more careful.  There are tons of dead fish floating around. YUCK!!!

It did not take long to get to San Juan...John and I watched from the balcony...we could see the battlements of El Morro from our cabin.  Now that I enjoyed.  There is a storm brewing which is NOT going to be fun.  I need to call the kids, it is all ready almost dark and this is just going to make it worse.  It looks as though it is a HUGE storm.  Well, we shall soon see, we will be docked within an hour or so.

When we finally got to the terminal there was a RCI ship next to us.  This was the first time that I had seen a RCI ship and my ship was larger than it...ha ha.  This RCI ship was leaving the terminal and heading to the Southern Caribbean...part of me wishes that I could get on that ship.

I am telling you I knew this storm was going to be bad.  As soon as we got off the ship it began to pour and was so black outside.  But I have to call the kids.  Henry and Ina opted not to get off the ship.  I went...I wanted to call and see Old San Juan again.  We saw tons of lightning strikes and we got soaked.  Hey we could see our balcony from the phone booth :)

This was the first time that I had been to San Juan in the evening.  They were decorated for Christmas and I remember the decorations from last time only I did not see them lit up last time.  The large flowers in the park are awesome, but my favorite is the nativity scene made out of rope lights.  There is also the palm tree made out of rope lights, I wish I could take it home. :(

We departed at midnight...there were parties going on all over and San Chrisobel was all lit up and looking beautiful.  When we wake up tomorrow we will be in St Thomas. :)

The 2 ships in port here were the Westerdam (we almost took this ship on this voyage) and the Century (we were on her last October).  This is my favorite port in the Caribbean!  Charlotte Amalie is so lovely the way it sits back in the cove.  We arrived at 8 am and going to depart at 6 pm.  We are going to go to St John.  We have not done that before.  It should be great, but first we do a little shopping.  The giant Longerberger basket still stands in the Havensight shopping district.  Last time we were here there was some hurricane damage, but all looks fine now.   Henry and Ina plan on going into Charlotte Amalie but our tour leaves at 12:15 guess we will catch up later.

Here I sit on Trunk Bay.  We took a ferry over here and saw Michael Jordan's house, Madonna's house, and Alan Alda's home all of  which were  HUGE!  John is doing some snorkeling right now, and I am working on some sketches.  The whole island is a national park thanks to Lawrence Rockefeller, and because of this it is against the law to remove any objects (even a shell) from the park.  Did you know that there is NO running water here? Rain is collected in cisterns and made into drinking water.  The students in middle and high school take a ferry to St Thomas every day to go to school.

We passed a giant termite nest on the way to this beach, you could hear the buzz of the termites...GROSS

When we were on the ferry we passed the point where the Atlantic and the Caribbean meet.  It was very neat.

St Maartin:
First trip...we were told it would be very easy to get to the beach on your own so we gave it a whirl.  When we got off the ship..there were lots of signs to different destinations.  We chose the Orient Beach one.  Henry and Ina could not decide where to go and were going to go with us, but at last minute they headed to town.  Jerry was our guide and took us up the winding streets of St Maartin.  We passed Marigot and entered the french side of the island and there was our beach.  As soon as we got off the ship it began to rain.  We have been plagued with rain this trip.  We found a shelter and I found a palm tree and took a frond off of it.  The ocean was a green with streaks of blue.  The waves were mild and folks were everywhere.  There was a sign on the private side of the beach that said "clothing optional".   Thank goodness most folks kept their clothes on.  Actually I only saw 3 folks that did not.  One guy in the ocean, one guy on a chair and one guy....I call him "ugly naked guy"  that paraded up and down the beach all day.  He was about 80 (no lie) and wore nothing but a bucket hat.  I guess that we were lucky that there were not more because this beach was full, but I was grateful that the times that it rained that none of the naked people tried to get into my shelter.  I am telling you, it rained on and off most of the day. :(

When we got back to Phillipsburg, I headed to do some shopping....shopping here is the best that I have ever seen.  I thought Charlotte Amalie was good....nope I was wrong.  This was the last land we were to see until we hit Miami beach in 2 days.  This is the part I hate.

On the ship:
I now had 2 days left to inspect the ship.  I found a bar that featured Czar Nicholas II and Alexandria in a giant mural.  It was the Caspian Wine and Spirit Bar.  It was always empty and a great place to draw or write.

My favorite hang out was the piano sing along bar.  I could have gone here every night just to hear this guy sing.  His name was Kevin and he was from Texas.  There was standing room only every night.  The women were CRAZY for him...because he was funny, talented, and very entertaining.  The women had a contest, "who could stuff the most dollars in his tip jar".  He loved this game too I am sure.

We found a hot tub that children could NOT get into YES!!! Those kids kept diving in the ones on deck...so we hopped up to the spa and found a hot one there.  Hey, Grandma and Grandpa starting hanging out with us there too.  Grandma would not get in though.  She just sit there.

We took a galley tour and this was the worst that I had ever done.  The matre D' did not explain anything...he just walked us through and walked us out...took about 3 minutes.

This is the last night of the cruise.  I am sitting on the balcony and everyone else is asleep.  I can see the lights of Miami up ahead and I am very sad that I shall be leaving this wonderful room soon.

Here we are in Miami...I took one last walk out onto the balcony before we exited the room, and all I saw was the terminal....whoo hoo.  This was the last chance to get Ina out onto the balcony...can you believe that we have been here a week and she has not been out ONCE?  We are upstairs for one last omelet.  How many have I had this week?  5-6?  probably.  We are on ship transfers so I bet we will be one of the last because they take you by flights and our flight is a long time away (tomorrow). 

We spent $432 on board...what did I buy?  $98 in shore excursions....internet cafe stuff...transfers....and tips seems to be the most that I spent on stuff.  Pretty good, I would say.

We checked into our hotel and walked over to Bennigan's to eat a little lunch.  Our room was nasty...NASTY.....NNNNNNNNNAAAAAAAASSSSSSSTTTTTTTTTYYYYYYYYY!  There were little bugs everywhere.  I did NOT want to stay here!  John knew this and took me for a walk.  We walked around Miami found an office depot, a chicken joint, a dog track (the one that was featured in the opening credits of Miami Vice), an abandoned flight school (Baker), an airport, and a bill board for a tournament on 4 Jan 2005 for the FedEx Orange Bowl.

It was a wonderful cruise.

Copied from my 2004 notebook on 26 Feb 2010

13 February 2010

OH MY, we go on our cruise TODAY!

What do I need to expect?  What is it going to be like?  Oh my I feel overwhelmed!  HELP!!!!

First of all, calm down today is going to busy and fun!  First of all, make sure that you have all of your documentation together.  I carry a pouch around my neck with everything because it streamlines  everything for you...it's all where you need it.

Now, if you are driving to the pier it will be NUTS!  There are about 2000 other guests trying to get on this ship, so expect it.  I have only driven to 2 ports, one was very easy and smooth and the other was the exact opposite.  Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.  Parking is high so get ready to pay for it. Expect about what you would at an airport.  Most places will have you pull up and they will take your luggage (I hope you remembered to attach your tags before you left home).  If they do this make sure you keep anything you may need.  As I stated before, you may not get these bags until after dinner!  I keep the same kind of stuff that you would if you were flying....include a change of clothes and maybe a swimsuit.  After you get the car parked you will make your way to the terminal.  In some ports the lines are terrible again expect the worst.  I would not keep too much with you carry on wise because if there are long lines, you get to carry it all the whole time...whoo hoo.  At our last port we stood in line for over 2 hours...that was extreme, and I had too much stuff because I had never waited that long before...next time I will not carry so much just in case.

If you are flying to the port, I recommend that you arrange your transfers from airport to pier prior to leaving home.  Read the airport website on cruise terminals transfers.  They may say "taxis are waiting outside" and if that is the case find out where you will find them at the airport, you might can arrange to have one ready if that makes you feel better, but I usually just grab one.  Now, if your pier is a long way away from your plane, I would prebook these arrangements.  One instance is Ft Lauderdale and Miami...lets say the ship is in Miami ok?  Well, these two cities are close, but not close enough to get a cab.  I would prebook via the cruiseline, unless you are very familiar with the other companies, but the cruise line will make sure the ship does not leave without you if you book with them.  They will not wait for you if you book on your own.  Also, if you use the cruiseline they will take your luggage off the bus and to the ship and you don't have to touch it again until it is delivered to your stateroom.  Tip your porters!!!

 You will still have to wait in the embarkation line if you book transfers with the cruise lines, just an fyi.

If you are not using a passport, have your id and birth certificate ready.  Hopefully, you prearranged your credit card for your onboard ship account, if you have not this is one last chance to do it before you get on the ship.  Really, do it from home, then you can prebook shore excursions and you don't have to think about it.  Doing it here only slows you down...it is that much longer until you are on the ship.  The clerk will give you your room key, which doubles as your onboard ship account card.  Hang onto this!!!

Next is the photo opt...I bypass this because I have done this so many times, but if this is your first cruise or you think you might buy it have your photo taken.

Getting excited aren't you?  You are minutes away from the ship.  This is the area where some lines have a table where you can sign your kids up for the kids clubs.  If not you may go right into the identification area.  Here you will give an attendant your card and they will put it into a machine and then take your photo.  Quite like Sam's only your photo won't be on the card.  When you finish this you are boarding the ship.  You using board midship, so if you have studied your map before you may know which way to go to get to your room.  If you have not or have just gotten your room assignment, someone will be there to direct you.  Some lines will give you champagne or orange juice as you board, others will just give you a warm welcome.  Look around, these folks are using the ones that will be your entertainment staff, you might spend lots of time together during your stay.

As you get to your room marvel at how small it is!  Carnival seems to have the largest rooms afloat and they are tiny folks.  But they have learned how to cram all kinds of great things into this little cube.  You might get lucky and the suitcases are outside the door, but don't count on it.  If they are not there, refresh yourself a tad and head to look around.  Me?  I head for the food.  There is always a nice lunch.  There should be many choices, usually there is a burger/fry line, maybe a deli sandwich type place/pizza/salad bar/oriental....there is simply no telling.  TRY the desserts!  YUMMY!  Especially if you are on Carnival or Norwegian.  Carnival, if there are eclairs or truffles snatch them up.  Remember you can eat as much as you want!

Then walk around and burn the calories you just consumed.  Look at the shops, chapel, casino, library, pools, hot tubs (maybe put on your suit and get in them), spa, gym, lounges, etc...this is where I begin to scout out that spot that will be mine for the duration of the voyage.  I like to find a bar that is vacant during the day or an area where no ones goes...here I draw, write, scrapbook, read, paint, listen to the Beatles...it's lovely!

Approximately 30 minutes before sailing you will HAVE to do a lifeboat drill.  Only once in all my cruises have we been allowed to do this without wearing those vests, so expect that you will have to and tell me if you did not.  You will have to go to your muster station and learn how to use the vest, how to board the vessels, and how you will know you need to evacuate.  It does take about 20-30 minutes.

Then head to the top of the ship (grab a jacket)...it is time to go.  Folks on land will wave to you, and everyone on board is excited...Bon Voyage!  The port of Miami is my favorite to leave from, go there and you will see why!  Seattle is my second favorite.  Take lots of photos!

After this thrill, go back to the room and check, you may be very please that the luggage is there and chances are good that you need to go to dinner (early sittings).  If you have not done your onboard account, you HAVE to go stand in line and do it now.  You may not buy ANYTHING until you do!  Everyone has to have an account because your tips will come out of this account on the last night, and you will buy something.

Walk around and explore if you want, go to dinner, scout out what will be served at dinner, read your daily newspaper.  This will be your friend...it will tell you what things the ship has planed to entertain you.  Some ships announce what is coming up, and others do not, so if you see something you want to do, don't rely on an announcement to remind you of it.  I bring a highlighter so I can highlight the things that I want to do and then carry the schedule part in my pocket.  Remember that you do not have to do these things...do what you like, it is your vacation! 

Dinner will be casual this evening because most folks won't have their luggage.  Wear your jeans if you want...keep in mind if you are going to the dining room shorts are frowned upon unless it is lunch time.  Now remember these dining rooms feature 3-5 course meals so they expect a little more upscaleness out of you.  You will not get kicked out if you wear shorts but you will be talked about!

You can eat dinner through the buffet line, they generally serve some of the same items, but I find that it is not usually as fresh here as in the dining rooms, and sometimes it is hard finding a table.  In the dining rooms you have a table for you.  Exceptions are the freestlye crusing, where you do not have assigned dining times. I don't really like this because you have to go from restaurant to restaurant trying to get in.  On Norwegian we mainly eat upstairs.  

There are also some restaurants that have upcharges.  While I have found great meals in here, keep in mind the additional charge will be on your acct at the end of the week.  The meals that are included with your cruise ticket include things like lobster tails, beef wellington, all types of seafood, Chateaubriand, fancy desserts....I am telling you, if you are budgeting DON'T go to the fancy up charged restaurants.  Save your money for something else. 

After dinner there may be a show,  check it out the shows are usually good.  Norwegian had amazing shows, they had artists do the silks everynight!  It was like a cirque de so lei  everyday.  Try to figure out how these dancers/acrobats keep their balance on this moving ship.

Around dinner time the shops, casino, maybe library will be open and the bars will start hopping soon after.  There always seems to be a bar where there is really no one but there is loud music so if you like that scout it out.  And you walk by some and they are bursting at the seems.  Most likely there will be a teen club, stay out if you are an adult, those kids want to be away from you!  If you are a drinker (either coke or alcohol) they are expensive.  If you have to have a coke everyday consider getting a soda card.  We sometimes do this it will save you a lot of money.  You can purchase one at any of the bars or from the staff person walking around selling drinks can direct you where to go.  There will be a 15% tip charged on every drink that you buy, another reason the soda card is worth it.

When you return to your room you might have a towel animal on your bed, your bed will be turned down and probably you will have chocolates too.  Enjoy your first great night!  I sleep so wonderfully on the first night.

12 February 2010

So I booked now what?

Congratulations!  You are about to undertake the greatest vacation (at least in my opinion)...but you have a few more details to cover.
Now you need to see if your cruise line requires a passport/passport card.  Most lines will abide by the law which states, if you leave from a US port and come back to a US port you can sail with a driver's license and a birth certificate.  There are some exceptions but that is for Canada and since we are talking about 3,4, and 5 day Western/Eastern Caribbean that does not apply to us.  Your birth certificate must have the raised seal on it and I am telling you that your driver's license expiration date should not be anywhere near your sailing date or they will give you issues.  You can trust me on this one because it has happened to us.

Depending on how long it is until your sail date, you will start getting correspondence from the line.  I can tell you with confidence that all of the lines are moving to a paperless delivery of the documents that they will send just an FYI.

The line will first send you something via email to verify each passengers information, special requests, birthday/anniversary requests, shipboard account info and offer you shore excursions.

PORTS OF CALL--- The website will give you exact days and times of the ports of call so that you can study what things are in each port and plan accordingly.  Sometimes I book my own excursions and when I do I make sure to research beforehand. 

SHORE EXCURSIONS--I am a big believer in booking the excursions online if you are going through the line.  WHY?  Because the lines at the shore excursion desk are horrible and I avoid them like the plague.

SHIPBOARD ACCOUNT-- Remember that the ships are a cashless society.  It is marvelous because your room key is your credit card and your identification to get on and off the ship.  The cruise line will ask you if you would like to set up your account now.  I recommend you do it now.  On embarkation day, your objective is to get on the ship as soon as possible and you do not want to wait in a huge line once you get on the ship to activate this card...you can buy nothing without this card.  I don't recommend using a debit card because some banks hold out $250 like an insurance thing.  A major card is better, cash is not because the deposit is so large and you will have to go and settle the account on the last night and there will be lots of others that have to do this...avoid it and enjoy the time on the ship.  Keep this card safe at all times!  And consider having your children's charging privileges taken away.  You are responsible for all money spent on the cards.

LUGGAGE TAGS---Closer to sailing date, you will need to go to the website and print your luggage tags.  The crew folks will take your luggage from you as you enter the ship and will deliver is to your state room sometime that evening.  Always carry a change of clothes with you as you board because you may not get your luggage until AFTER dinner.  These luggage tags will tell the crew where to take your bags.  If you got a guaranteed cabin, you will need to fill in the cabin number before you hand over your bags.

DECK PLANS---  The website will also give you detailed deck plans...I like to study them so at least I have an idea of where things are.  Now, I do get turned around alot once I get there.  That is one reason I like Norwegian, they have fish on the floors that swim towards the bow (front of ship) so you can tell where you are.

As you start printing off the itinerary and the confirmations numbers and cruise tickets, you will be collecting a ton of stuff that will need to be kept up with.  I get me a folder with pockets and put everything in this (including pre cruise air confirmations and hotels).  That way it is all in one place and you don't forget anything.  Also in this folder is my documentation (birth certificates/passport). This folder is easy to pull out in an airport terminal, in the embarkation line and serves as a holder for the daily newspapers and scrapbook items that I wish to keep.

10 February 2010

Packing List for the Caribbean (up to 7 days)

There are packing lists EVERYWHERE...but let me tell you about me. Oh yes, I have followed those lists perfectly and I NEVER have enough shirts...NEVER. I know that I am messier than some and sweat when it is hot, and I require a fresh shirt...my rules. ; So my list is different. I have 3 types of lists that I keep in my computer a Disney list (also have a disney itinerary planner), an Alaskan list (for 7 days), and a 7 day packing list for the Caribbean. The way that I do it, it would be very easy to knock off 2-3 days off the list. ; If you wish to use it I have it saved in Word 2007, I would be willing to share just message me. If you ever need a Disney itinerary, I have that in Excel 2007...a real trip saver.

I pack using space bags...that way I can get everybody's things in 2 large suitcases and everyone has a carry on. In my carry on I keep the travel documentation folder, all my cameras, the prescription meds, and my dental floss! John usually carries water and cokes in his.

You are not supposed to take an iron on board the ship and if you get caught with it they will take it away. I bring a cheap travel iron and hid it inside the space bags! SHH!

Things that you cannot forget EVER!!! Extension cord!  There is usually one outlet in the room, what if you need to charge your phone, you need to plug in the straightener, and you need a clock plugged in?  This is an item I use every day!

Clock, if you need to know the time (or with Alaska when the time changes alot) bring a clock the rooms don't come with them and often I have seen that my cell does not keep accurate time because I don't use it to make calls while at sea (too expensive).
Trash bag, for wet or dirty clothes, stuff the clothes in the trash bag then put inside the space bag...smash it up and put in the suitcase, it will be there waiting for you when you get home.

4-6 clothes pins...the shower usually has a clothes line for bathing suits, but they drier faster/better with clothes pins.

wire hangers...I put these in the suitcase to hang things once I get on board, then I leave them for the next guest to use after I depart.  I have noticed that other folks tend to do this too.  The last cruise someone left those fancy joy mandango hangers. Hanging the clothes will help with the wrinkles and lessen the ironing time. I HATE to iron.

Tide to go!  I don't need to tell you how valuable this will be to you.

Toilet paper!  The eco system of a ship is fragile and the toilet flushing is like a jet plane engine!  But I can tell you the paper they use is like PAPER! 1 ply and hard!  My tush is a little spoiled I bring the charmin!

Tissues...same with the tissues, if you have nose issues like I do, you need these.

lightweight blanket...some of the lounges/rooms are cool too cool for me so I always bring a sweater for the public areas and a light blanket for the bedroom. I HATE to be cold.

Notepad and pen/pencil. You may want to remember some details, take notes during a class or shopping talk or exchange emails of your table mates, be prepared!

This is not a complete list....I add to/take away with the itinerary.Cruise Packing list…..created by Michelle Champion
Personal Items
o Tooth brush
a. John
b. Michelle
c. Hannah
d. Trevor
o Tooth paste
a. Mint
b. Paste
o Deodorant
a. John
b. Michelle
c. Hannah
o Dental Floss
o Hairspray
o Makeup remover
o Hairbrush
a. John
b. Michelle
c. Hannah
o Comb
o Plax
o Razor
a. John
b. Michelle
c. Hannah
o Rain slickers
a. John
b. Michelle
c. Hannah
d. Trevor
o Extension cord
o Alarm clock
o Pain killer
o Vitamins
o Prescription meds
a. John
b. Michelle
o Shampoo
a. Normal hair
b. Dry hair
o Conditioner
o Bar soap with baggie to hold it
o Shower gel
o Scrubby
o Charmin
o Toilet wipes
o Cortaid
o Bug spray
o Hair dryer ?
o Iron ?
o Make up
a. Mascara green and waterproof
b. Eye liner
c. Eye shadow
d. Foundation
e. Concealer
f. Lipstick
o Plastic memory case
o robe
Travel Items
o Travel documents
a. John
b. Michelle
c. Hannah
d. Trevor
o Ids
a. John
b. Michelle
o Trip documents
a. Cruise tickets
b. Itinerary
c. Shore excursions
d. Plane reservations
e. Taxi numbers
f. Hotel information
o Cell phones/chargers
a. John
b. Michelle
Camera stuff
o 7MP
a. 2 batteries
b. Charger
c. Bag
d. Ziploc for camera
e. 4GB memory card
o 12MP
a. 4GB memory card
b. Ziploc for camera
c. Charger
d. 2 batteries
e. bag
o 5MP waterproof
a. Case
b. Memory card
c. 4 AA batteries
o Bathing suits
a. John 1, 2
b. Michelle 1, 2
c. Hannah 1, 2
d. Trevor 1, 2
o Cover up
a. Michelle 1, 2
b. Hannah 1, 2
o Swim shoes/flip flops
Day 1…board the ship depart 4 pm
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 2 Elegant/Formal nights
a. Black suit
b. Shirt (one for each night)
c. Tie (2)
d. Shoes
a. Dress (red vera wang and black and
b. Hose ?
c. Wrap
d. Purse
e. Heels 2 pairs
a. Dress
b. Shoes
a. Khaki pants
b. Suit
c. White shirt
d. Polo
e. shoes

Here are a few of the packing lists that I like and use!


08 February 2010

What should I look for and how to get the best deal?

 Now that I know I want to go on a cruise what do I do? Where should I go?
In my opinion, if you don't know that you won't like it start small!  There are tons of small trips that you can combine with a day or two at Disney, Universal, or another attraction.   Most of these small cruises are 3,4 , or 5 days in length.  My tips are from the Eastern part of the country because I live within driving distance to these ports.   These ports include:  Mobile, AL; Miami, FL; Ft Lauderdale, FL; Tampa, FL; and Port Canaveral, FL; New Orleans, LA; and Charleston, SC

There are many things here that have to happen-you have to choose a port that you want to leave from, you have to choose a length of duration, you have to choose a cruise line, and you have to choose a price range.  Don't worry it is NOT that hard.  Take your time, and tell yourself, "hey Michelle does this all the time, how hard can it be?"   

Where do I look?--- You can go with a travel agent, but I have found that I get better deals on my own.  I have not used an agent since 1999.  I use www.travelocity.com  www.expedia.com for the most part.  I am signed up on many sites "specials" emails www.cheapcruises.com  www.VacationsToGo.com   www.cruisecheap.com  www.cruises.orbitz.com  And if you can leave at the drop of a hat the best deals are at www.lastminutecruises.com
I can tell you that I look at the sites almost everyday.  You never know when you are going to find a great deal on something and you need to go for it.  Look for a while before you book, then you will see that the prices fluctuate a lot.  If you can get it for $59 per night, take it!  $99 per night is average.  I would consider NOT getting it above that unless it is something great or you have money to burn.  Now, I am talking Western Caribbean and 3,4, and 5 days Eastern Caribbean locations here, my opinions differ when you go Eastern 7 days, Southern Caribbean, and Alaska.  I have not done West Coast or Mexican Rivera cruises so I can't give any details on them.

I was looking this morning and the same cruise that I took in December for $200 pp is currently $599 pp.  See the differences?  Do research! 

PRICE---If price is an issue start there. My Dec 09 cruise was solely booked on this because of the price of the trip.  We had not planned on taking a cruise in 09, but since we are constantly looking for cruises, we ran over this price and booked it.  Prices are going to vary depending on what type of cabin you book.  There are usually 3 choices, inside, outside, and suite.  They are pretty self explanatory, inside is on the inside of the ship with no window.  I have always had a faux window.  Outside means you will have a window or a porthole (on older ships) so you can see outside.  There are many types of outside cabins and the price varies with what type you get.  There is the obstructed view which means that you have a railing or lifeboat out your window and possibly you can't see great, these are the cheapest.  There is the regular outside cabin that is the medium priced, and you can see out the whole window.  And there is the balcony cabin.  Balconies are wonderful, it is nice to have your own opening to the world, but they are expensive, if you are on a budget this is NOT the place to blow that budget UNLESS you are going to Alaska!  I have never had a suite so I cannot give you any tips on them.

Some lines offer guaranteed staterooms.  This means that you will book the cabin but you will not know where it is until the day of sailing.  There are two types a guaranteed interior cabin and and guaranteed exterior cabin.  It is simply the luck of the draw as to what you get.  Once we booked a guaranteed inside and got a balcony.  So we paid for the cheapest room on the ship and got a tremendous upgrade.  I do recommend this type of room if you are on a big budget.  Folks the stateroom is not a place that you spend a lot of time and again I state, this is NOT the place to blow your budget.  All you really do here is sleep and change clothes.  The cabins are small (Carnival has the largest rooms afloat) and the bathroom is smaller, so you are NOT going to want to spend tons of time here. 

The lines occasionally offer good prices, but don't count on it and NEVER pay brochure price...NEVER NEVER!  Many of the sites offer onboard credit, free photos, free excursion...these deals are worth looking in to.

AAA offers some deals on cruises, and I am a member, but I have found better prices on the internet. 

Cruise line---I never book strictly on cruise line alone, I shop by value and destination.  Royal Caribbean has the largest ships, but that doesn't mean they are better.  Carnival has a more "fun" "party" type atmosphere, it is very laid back and I enjoy them very much.  Celebrity, Norwegian and Princess have a more upscale atmosphere, but that is not a bad thing either.  Norwegian offers a freestyle life where you don't have assigned dining times.  It is a wonderful idea, but if you don't make reservations, it is difficult to eat when you want, so make reservations.  I will always recommend Carnival over the others, they have been very good to me over the years.

Ship--- Generally, this won't be something that will be an issue when booking.  I just want to give you a warning or two.  New ships are going to cost more, that is just a fact!  Before you book check out the details on your ship.  If the ship is just out of refurb (been refurbished) that is great because things are working.  If a ship is scheduled to go into refurb right after your selected dates...DO NOT TAKE IT no matter what the cost is.  Since they are about to do a major re haul on the vessel, they will NOT be looking to fix things that are wrong. This is also true if the ship is about to be sold.  All of this info is available on the internet and I promise you it is worth it.  I would NOT listen to rankings that people have given to the ship, because you and I have differently opinions on what we like and do not like.  I am an easy to please sailor as long as it is clean, so I us an issue with things other than once when we were one of the last sailings on a ship that the line was selling...yep, we had a backup in our shower and NO ONE cared.  Why should they?  The ship was sold, they just needed to finish their commitments. 

Embarkation port--Meaning, the port that you will leave from when you embark on this grand voyage.  If this is an issue with traveling, I would first choose the port that you want to leave from.  If you are very open to whatever, choose by destination, that way your prices may be better and you can assure that you see the things you want to see.

Length of Voyage---I would like to state again, if you are unsure whether or not you will like this vacation take a shorter trip.  If you love to be on the water, then take a long one!  I will recommend great ports for longer destinations in another posting.

Here are the most popular ports on the shorter cruise circuit:

BAHAMAS  -----The Bahamas are a short sweet little trip.  These cruises usually leave from Cape Canaveral or Miami/Ft Lauderdale.  While excursions offered on the ships vary somewhat, you can always book something or explore on your own.  The Bahamas are known for great beaches, Paradise Island, birds, and shopping.
http://www.bahamas.com/bahamas/cruise-passengers  I would visit this link to plan your Bahamas trip.  I am not a fan of the Bahamas and don't plan on going back unless it is looped in with a 7 day trip that I love.  But now, I am NOT a swimmer, so I do not snorkel.  I am a shopper!  A painter! and an artist! 
I can tell you that there are hundreds of islands in the Bahamas, some that are even owned by the cruise lines.  Give it a shot, it is pretty...I am just not a huge fan.

KEY WEST---one of my all time favorite ports.  You get off the ship in Mallory Square and Front Street.  We did not take the pink flamingo pink cabs, we walked the streets all the way to the Southernmost monument on Duval Street.  Must dos include the "Little White House" that Harry S Truman called refuge during his Presidency.  It is a little bit of wonderful.  Go to Kermits for "real" key lime pie.  Go to Sloppy Joe's and eat where Hemingway liked to park himself for extended periods of times.  If you want directions ask and I shall give them.  Key West is a very calm place with roosters roaming the streets, and a wealth of shops if that is what you like; and I do.  I bought lots of shells and shell jewelry, cause that is what I do. 

Cozumel---Another wonderful spot!  I go here as often as I can!  ONE word....VANILLA!  YEP, that is all you need here.  Now there are plenty of beaches, snorkeling, dolphins, sightseeing things, but I go for the VANILLA.  There is NOTHING like a cookie made with vanilla from Mexico.  Trust me!  There is safe vanilla and not safe vanilla.  I buy from the same places that I know is safe.  Los Cinco Soles and Viva Mexico carry Courmarin free vanilla.  You want to make sure that it says that it is courmarin free...if it does not do not buy it, this chemical causes cancer!  Los Cinco Soles has the best tasting at about $15 per liter (that is a good price).  As for the port itself, it is wonderful.  As you get off the ship, you will either get off in town, San Miguel or at the pier, Puerto Maya.  The pier has grown up so much over the years.  I have been coming here since 1998 and it does not even look like the same place.  Now since then it has been hit by a couple of hurricanes too, but the improvements are fantastic. There are so many shops, and a public beach right off the pier that you do not even have to go into town unless you want to.  It is a $6 taxi ride (one way) into San Miguel.  I recommend you try it, there is a Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, a Mega Market (if you like grocery stores like we do), and TONS of shopping and many places to barter.  BARTER!!! They expect it and you will get a great deal!  If you are looking for silver look here, but make sure it is real silver look all over for the .925 markings, if there is not one  it will not be silver and do not buy it!  You can buy marble chess sets and wind chimes very cheap and little Mexican handicrafts (throws, hammocks, jackets, purses, guitars, etc...).  If you drink there are cheap places to buy beer, can't tell you the names, but they are all up and down the mail street which is right off the ocean.  If you collect shells, you can sometimes gather a few on the public beach that runs all along the downtown area. I do not recommend that you eat the food here unless the cruise line has told you it is safe...getting the runs in Mexico is NOT fun!  You can buy an omega necklace from touch of gold for $199 which is a wonderful buy!  T shirts can be found for 5 for $10 but usually are not great shirts, be wary of that.  Del Sol has a great product and this store always seems to offer great deals.  There is a bamboo sheet store go feel them, they feel wonderful.  This is a MUST do in my book.  I have tons of more tips about Cozumel if you want them ask.

Grand Cayman---You anchor off George Town and there are literally TONS of stores to shop in right off the pier. Most folks will take an excursion to 7 mile beach or to the very famous Stingray City.  But in your planning don't forget the world's only turtle farm.  The snorkeling here is supposed to be good.

 Progresso, Mexico---Just went here for the first time in December 2009.  I really was impressed!  It is a newish sort of port so they are only going to get better.  Right off the pier is a Los Cinco Soles, but it seems different than the one in Cozumel.  You exit the store and there are many little stores and tour guides that are selling excursions.  We booked our excursion here and save $74 dollars.  We took a tour to the flea market in town with EXCELLENT prices.  You can get a hammock for $10 and purses for $5, $10, or $15!  Get your hammock here, when we got to Cozumel they were $55 for the same thing.  This is a very poor port and everyone wants a tip for everything that they do for you, including handing you toilet paper in a bathroom.  Our tour was to the ruins at Dzilbilchaltun....I loved this place, the Cenote and the Temple of the Seven Dolls were extraordinary. WE also trekked to the capital of the Yucatan, Merida.  An old city with a modern flair.  I do recommend Progresso.  The vanilla was cheap here, but I would not be 100% sure of the safety.

07 February 2010

Why cruise?

Here is a question that I am asked often because I am a very seasoned cruiser.  That being said, I am also a bargain cruiser, and I am very confident that I can find the best deal on a cruise.  Here are the tips that I give to you about the reasons why to cruise in part 2 I plan on telling you how to find the best deal.

1.  Why do I want to go on a cruise?
Because in my experience, it is the cheapest vacation value that I have found.  You cruise includes your room and board, your meals, and varying destinations.
2.  I think that I will feel like I am "trapped" or there will not be anything for me to do trapped on a boat for days, or it will be too crowded. 
Okay, you need to wake up!!!   These ships are massive!  Yes, the small ones hold about 1500-2000 guests and the big ones hold 5400 guests, but do you think that the designers did not take that into consideration when designing the ships?  A smaller ship is about 800 feet long...That is larger than a block in the majority of cities and that is just length not width!  There is at least one theater that will seat roughly half of the passengers at one time, at least 10 bars/lounges, MINIMUM 2 restaurants (most have many more than this), a shopping mall (even the small ships have 5stores or more), at least 2 pools (I just got off one last year with 4), many hot tubs, and many decks.  The largest cruise ship afloat, Oasis of the Seas is 1180 feet long, 154 feet wide, stands at 16 decks high!  Oh yeah, I can see how you think that you will be crowded.  Folks even Carnivals smallest ship, the Holiday stands at 733 feet long (again bigger than a city block).
3.  I can't be on a ship for days.
Well, unless you are taking a cruise to nowhere you will not be.  On the shorter cruises, you get off  the ship the next day in a new port.  On the longer ones, you might have a day or two at sea and then you get off the ship in a new destination.  The destinations are one thing that make the cruises GREAT!!!  Not only will you be traveling to places, but these ships are large, LARGE!!  They are like little floating cities, and on most ships I have found places that NO ONE frequents and I can draw, paint, write, sketch whatever in privacy!  It is all about the exploring and enjoying the ship.  It is NOT like a Holiday Inn that is a float, there are literally TONS of things to see, do, explore, experience, and people to meet.
4.  There won't be anything to do on the ship. 
Again, this is NOT true, if you want to do something there will be something for you to do.  Here is a sampling, Casino, library, shopping, seminars, shopping talks, bingo, classes, chances to eat (24 hours a day), swimming, "laying out", games (organized games that the cruise director does for the passengers), chances to meet new folks, drinking (there are bars everywhere), dance clubs, high tea, sing along bars, movies, broadway styled shows, comedians, entertainers, guest talent shows, adults only activities, adult only areas, arcades, places to just chill, and many more things; yes, I agree with you when you say "there is nothing to do"
5.  It is going to be too expensive.
This is the reason that I thought I could never do this, but once I looked into it I realized...it can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be.  This is where planning comes into play for the best deal, price wise.  Now there are things that will "add on" to the price....Tips!  Tips are taken off your shipboard acct, you may change the amounts, but please don't lower the amounts unless you have bad service.  These folks make a very small wage and these tips are what pay their bills.  Did you know that the crew sign contracts and work on the ships for 6, 9, or 12 months without ONE day off?

Fancy dinners/desserts/coffees will also add to the cost! Keep this in mind.  Now, you get the dining room food included in your cruise price, it is the specialty restaurants that cost more.  What, but you said I could have nice dinners? Oh yeah, you will get those....4/5 course meals are included the fair will include lobster tails, prime rib, filet migion, Chateaubriand, Baked Alaska, Cherries Jubilee, fancy soups/appetizers, seafood, desserts that are out of this world...these are included and you can order more than one entree/appetizer/dessert...don't forget that...and it will cost nothing extra!  You will be told which things cost extra, just pay attention.

Gambling, adult beverages and sodas and shopping...these are NOT included in your price...you will have to pay for them!  Be aware that beverages will include a 15% tip as well. 

Photos...there is always a ship photo willing to take your photo.  Take as many as you like, this part is free.  It's when you go to purchase that they add up quickly.  And 8x10 might cost you $20 so shop wisely.  Look for specials on photos and shop items, they have some type of special everyday.  Check the photos everyday if there is one you really want, later in the week the cruise workers start getting rid of some of the photos because they take so many.
6.  I get sea sick.  
I can say that I have never experienced any "sickness" that comes associated with motion sickness while on a boat.  My husband did for a brief time our very first cruise, but took no medication to get over it, still it was a brief time.  I can say that the ships have huge stabilizers on them, that works to alleviate any vast shifts.  For the most part, I seem to notice the ships moving when we are traveling to  a far away place and they have to "book it" to get there (such as Alaska and Barbados).  On a Mexican/Bahamas cruise there is not a lot of distance to travel so you don't seem to notice that.  However, I love the gentle rocking that you experience when you are in the bow (front of the ship)....I never sleep as good as I do on a cruise ship when I have an aft room (front of ship).  Mid ship rooms seem (to me) to be the least likely to feel anything.  Stern rooms get a little bit of motion from the wake of the ship.  All in all though, I don't notice that it is much.  I have been on only 1 cruise where it was terrible!  It was on a older ship that did not have the stabilizers and it was a very small ship.  In my experience, I have noticed the bigger the better on the motion, I think the stabilizers are better or something.  I do notice many folks that wear the patches behind their ear, so if you think you might have a problem, bring the patches with you they are very expensive on the ship. 
7.  All those cruise ships get that norovirus.
Again a not true assumption.  There are thousands and thousands of cruise passengers every day...and much like a plane crash you only hear about the virus NOT the cruises where there is not an issue.  Many ships are using the sanitizers everywhere and requiring you to wash before entering a restaurant (Norwegian does).  I don't use these stations and have never gotten sick.  I do not use hand rails, let my hands linger on anything public (door knobs, elevator buttons, tables, etc....), but these are the things that I do on land.  I believe in hand washing of my own hands often and done well will prevent many of these illnesses.  NO ONE in my family have ever gotten sick on or after any of our cruises.  I do bring my own lysol wipes to clean the bathroom the first day, and we generally only use our bathroom and we take the stairs mostly.  Here is why, I take lysol wipes everywhere!!!!  I clean every hotel room that I have ever stayed in upon my arrival.  I take the stairs on the ships because I eat a lot and don't want to gain weight.  I have never gained a pound on a boat and have actually lost on some.  And we walk from one end of the ship to the other a lot too, we enjoy that.
8.  There is nothing for the kids to do.
Somethings, yes the kids will not like.  They are not going to like a 2 hour 5 course meal (but I make them do it anyway and take a DS), they won't like waiting for food, but they will like being out in the middle of the ocean scanning for dolphins, and if you do Carnival they will LOVE the Water Works with the water slides and water park.  They will love the pools and hot tubs, and I can tell you that every line I have ever sailed has had a kids program.  I think Carnival has the best, but they all have them.  For the teens, they have the teen disco, they have scavenger hunts for all the kids, a program for the kids to be in or sit on the front row of, a wonderfully stocked "clubhouse" and a different one for each age group.  Sometimes, some lines will even keep them during dinner so you can enjoy that 2 hour meal alone, and all of them offer babysitting at a small fee.  There are shore excursions that are designed for the whole family too!  Yes, your kids will find tons to do.  Both of my kids cruised for the first time at 18mths old (They were both born in April and they each went on a cruise in Oct for their first one).  Once you know what to avoid and know the limits of your kid, you will be fine.  Some ships have even let us "check out" a box of toys to take to our room and keep the whole week.  I LOVE that!  We very much enjoyed that, and took those toys everywhere to dinner, on land, to the deck, to the shows, they were great and age appropriate.  They don't advertise this, just ask at the director of the kids program.  Also, they  may have a playgroup...check your cruise ship paper or ask the director.
Other tidbits:
Room service is part of your price, but you need to tip the person bringing it to you a dollar or two.

The ships are a cashless society...you will be given a key card that will double as your credit card.  Don't loose this and make sure your child's card is not activated or they will be allowed to buy things without your permission.