Tag Archives: travel

Take a Child on a Cruise Day

We had special guests on our annual Christmas cruise this year. My nephew and his family came along, although my niece should get credit because she managed the process. They have two sons, who are ten and twelve.

We traveled with my son once, but he was married with a child, so that hardly counts as children. We’ve traveled with my Mom twice, and she wanders off like a child, but if you leave out the Chardonnay, she will find her way back.

So, this was our first cruise with “proper” children, although the 12-year old will be very annoyed to have been referred to as a “child.”

With pre-teens, all of the stuff that seemed like a waste of space before suddenly became critical.

We were on a Western Caribbean cruise, but we only had three ports in a week-long cruise. So, three sea days to explore the ship.

We were on the Norwegian Breakaway, the first time we had sailed on her since the inaugural crossing, so we assumed we knew the ship fairly well.

Not so much.

Kids love buffets – at least, kids who have been taught to be a bit adventurous with food. There is a variety of items to try, and if you don’t like it, try something else. If you do like it, have another plate (or three.)

Kids with a sense of adventure love the slides. If you are slightly paranoid, having seen the YouTube videos of people stuck in cruise ship slides (yes, more than one), you probably avoid them. Our nephews went down all of them, all the time. Their parents went down them. We watched – and it was the first time we’d ever been near the slides (except when I was on the way to a bar.)

Kids with an excessive sense of adventure love the ropes course. Our nephews did it multiple times, and shamed Mom into doing it – and the zip line. We watched.

Kids will play miniature golf. We actually played with them, after they asked, and we said, “There’s a golf course?” It’s fun – although it also was an annoyance point, since unsupervised kids were collecting the (limited) clubs and golf balls, which meant others couldn’t play. We still managed to get a fun round played – although the main hazards were other unsupervised children wandering around.

Kids play shuffleboard. I’ve been meaning to play shuffleboard since our first cruise. They did it. They also played giant chess.

So, now I understand the stuff that is added to the more recent classes of ships, which always seemed silly before.

I think everyone who only travels with a partner should Take a Child on a cruise. You will discover parts of the ship you never knew were there.

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The Simplest Travel Insurance

There are two topics that arise over and over on cruise discussion boards – tipping and travel insurance. I will have to discuss tipping later, because I don’t think my blood pressure can take writing about both at the same time.

Travel insurance is very simple – it’s a way to limit your risk from the things that can go wrong on a vacation. In that way, it’s exactly the same as homeowner’s insurance limiting the risk of things that could go wrong with your house or auto insurance limiting the risk of things that could go wrong with your car.

So, why do so many people think that not buying insurance for a cruise implies the cruise line absorbs their risk?

There are an infinite number of “poor couple about to embark on a dream cruise” scenarios, usually driven by the local TV news investigative team lambasting the cruise line for not refunding their cruise fare (which is always an expensive cruise fare) because something happened and prevented the trip. The something is usually easily preventable, had the poor couple done any research or planning ahead of time.

The last one was a couple who were stuck at the airport which was on lockdown, missed their plane and therefore missed the ship. How this became the cruise line’s fault is a bit beyond me. Why isn’t the Channel 5 Action Team yelling at the airline or the TSA?

The risk that travel insurance could have covered is missing the cruise ship. However, there is another very easy way to do this – and not doing so is a common thread in almost all of the “horrible, greedy cruise line” stories.

Don’t fly in the morning of your cruise. Just don’t. 

The first rule of travel which has nothing to do with insurance, but is all about lowering risk is DON’T FLY ANYWHERE THE DAY OF THE EVENT. If you buy airfare from the cruise line, this is the default – make them change it. Actually, if you need domestic flights, just do it yourself, as it will probably be cheaper and you have control over your schedule. (Cruise lines, in our experience, can get good one-way international fares. Anything else, we can beat by booking ourselves.) Find a hotel near the port and start your vacation a day early. Just remember that travel insurance from the cruise line won’t start until you’re on the ship. So, get travel insurance from someone other than the cruise line for these trips, or just know you’re really buying insurance against getting sick on the cruise or getting left in port – which at a certain age, becomes a reasonable risk.

Traveling on the day of anything important happening is insane. I used to travel for business constantly, and I always went in the day before. Always. I don’t know how many meetings got canceled because some idiot would try to fly in the morning of the meeting and the plane got delayed or canceled. There were some instructors that would take the “first plane out” in the morning their class started – and then miss the first half day because the flight was delayed. I never missed a class, because I always flew in early. We had one guy that always scheduled the first day to start at noon, and he usually arrived by 3pm. For business travel, you’re giving up part of your weekend, but you will retain your stomach lining. For leisure travel, the people you were leaving at home on your business trip are coming along with you – just leave a day early.

Here’s something people forget – airlines fly routes that are all interconnected. “But, I’m flying from Dallas to Miami! The weather won’t be a factor.” Yes, but your plane is coming from Chicago, which is having a blizzard. Good-bye, flight.

After scheduling your arrival into the port properly, buy travel insurance. It won’t guarantee you the trip of a lifetime, but it might get you the money you spent refunded. We’ve had medical issues on two or three cruises, and the basic cruise line insurance has always made up the difference after our health insurance paid out their portion. (We are at the dangerous age where our medical bill can exceed our bar tab.)

Just remember travel insurance for health issues (like the ship’s doctor) pays after the fact. The doctor onboard doesn’t file insurance. He charges your ship card. So, have the money available, because you may get it back, but it’s not immediate.

A cruise line sells travel insurance for two reasons – one, to make a bit of additional revenue, and secondly, so when people ask for a refund because they did something stupid, the cruise line can say, “Didn’t you have travel insurance? We offered it to you.”

There’s a part of me that wants to ask, “So, if someone runs into your Escape, and you don’t have auto insurance, are you just going to call Ford and ask for a new car?”

Titanic II

So, the Blue Star Line is in the process of building a duplicate (almost) of the RMS Titanic, and is planning to sail the original route across the Atlantic from Southampton to New York. Hopefully, it will not duplicate the original sailing, so it will make it all the way to New York.

First of all, anyone in Dallas that hears “Blue Star” immediately thinks Jerry Jones is involved (which is why Blue Star Sports changed their name.) If Jerry Jones was involved, the ship would get within twenty yards of the port and stall.

Why would anyone do this?

I know that if you look at Disney Cruise Lines ships, they don’t look like cruise ships. They look like ocean liners, like in the old-time movies. They are much more romantic, because they stir the memories of the sea in people who don’t actually have any memories, other than through movies and television.

So, there’s the romance factor. Plus, lots of people paid to see the movie Titanic, even though everyone knew how it was going to end.

Here’s the official promo video. It’s interesting as a tribute to the original ship, and a quick overview of the proposed new version.

I thought it was an interesting concept until I saw the cabins in the video. Then I remembered that people were smaller back then. Not only that, their idea of luxury was quite different than ours.

I’m sure she was quite elegant in her day, but then again, people used to like Formica and shag carpeting.

I wonder what the fares will be. How much is a 1912 dollar (or pound) worth? (OK, one site said $1 in 1912 would be worth $26.02 today. That’s a lot of money for a small cabin.)

It won’t be an exact duplicate because the ship’s operating equipment is being upgraded – diesel-electric engines instead of steam, radar, GPS, azipods (but no stabilizers), yet the passenger experience is the  same – including bunk beds in the lower classes. I’m pretty sure the equipment upgrades had to be done or she would not be able to sail. Ships today have to meet SOLAS, which ironically was put into place after the RMS Titanic sunk.

I could see doing a night-long cruise to nowhere on a 1912-vintage-ish ship just for the experience, but if I wanted to sail across the Atlantic, I’m not sure I want to spend eight nights in an inside cabin in a bunk bed, with my wife above (or below) me, complaining about the bunk beds.

I suppose some people will want to make the trip to the New World that their ancestors made, in the approximate style in which their ancestors traveled, in a replica of a ship most famous for not completing her maiden voyage. Tastes differ.

My Grandad Gilhooly sailed from Ireland to New York to begin a new life in the New World. (I’m still trying to find an exact date and ship.) I’m pretty sure he wasn’t in first class or even second class. The Irish were not sailing to conquer new worlds, they were fleeing the old one.

I sailed from Southampton to New York in the Haven on the Norwegian Breakaway, because we were given an upgrade opportunity just before we left. We had a butler. Close enough for me.

Why not upgrade the passenger experience since you’re not 100% true to the original? Just think, if you had balconies, you could have that many more people on iceberg watch.

Also, I’m pretty sure the original Titanic did not have a “Made in China” label.

I will be interested to see if she ever sails. The project is apparently now back on track after being delayed past the 100-year anniversary.

I did try to sign up for the mailing list, just to watch progress. The link was broken. I hope their server didn’t hit an iceberg and go down.

It took six years to build RMS Titanic. She was in service five days. Do we really have to try again?

More Passengers than Citizens

Alaska has a great resource in the Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska website. It has port schedules for all Alaska ports, every day of the cruise season. This does not excite everyone, but for scheduling nerds, it’s nirvana.

I found the site because I was trying to determine if we were going to be tendering. (We weren’t.) However, the site shows every ship that will be in port by day, so you can find out who your neighbors will be.

Somewhere along the line, I started wondering how many passengers were being dumped on these rather small towns – so I got the double-occupancy numbers for all the ships from Wikipedia. I knew the ships would all be carrying above that number, but double occupancy is what is considered “full.” Since I was on Wikipedia anyway, I got the latest population counts for the ports.

There were a couple of towns where the populace could have boarded the ships, and had extra room.

Brave New World

I never thought it would happen, but after seventeen cruises, we have finally booked an excursion outside the ship’s excursion offerings. Sure, we’ve had a couple of ports where we just wandered around on our own, but we were never that far from the ship, and it was usually pretty well-planned (and limited) – like going to lunch or meeting people for drinks.

Now, booking through the ship is usually considered a badge of shame on Cruise Critic (which should really be called Cruise Whiners much of the time), because the ship excursions cost more, the selection isn’t as plentiful, and usually because the ones telling everyone not to book through the ship are selling their own excursions.

Me? I like booking through the ship, if there is something interesting available. It goes on the same statement, it’s paid over time with the rest of the cruise fare, and there is some hope the ship will wait if the excursion gets back late.

The last part was never much of a consideration, until Alaska, when excursions were ending just before the ship was going to leave, mainly because the time in port was so short.

So, I never really considered anything else – we either did a ship shore excursion, or we didn’t do anything organized at all. In Cozumel, we would just get a taxi to go to Pancho’s Backyard, which was conveniently in the same building as my wife’s favorite souvenir store, and I would have a margarita or two, and try to pay my bar tab while there was still money in the account.

So, it’s time to shake it up a bit. We’re sailing at Christmas. Again. We’re going to Cozumel. Again. Cozumel is one of the default destinations for all Western Caribbean cruises, and we’re sailing out of New Orleans, so that’s where we’re headed. We’ve done all the interesting excursions, some twice, some that weren’t that interesting, and we’ve just gone to eat and shop.

What’s left?

There are a couple of Cozumel suggestions that always come up – Mr Sancho’s (a beach resort) and the Cozumel Bar Hop. You can’t book either of these through the ship, so it was time to cross over to the self-service excursions.

I always wanted to try the Bar Hop, mainly because it has the word “Bar” in the title, but also because it visits the ocean side of the island (the east side, where no tourists generally go.) We almost decided on it, but then we looked at Mr Sancho’s, and they have an all-inclusive plan – all you can eat, all you can drink.

You can find YouTube videos of people hammered at both places, so that’s a push.

However, when you’re married to a diabetic, as I am, food options are important. There are snacks on the Bar Hop, but it wasn’t clear how much food there is available – or whether someone nameless would actually partake in what was offered. So, all-you-can-eat is a good bonus, especially when the someone nameless approved of the menu. (When you’re married to a diabetic who goes on and on about needing food options, all-you-can-drink is a necessity.)

(It turns out there are a lot of resorts selling day passes in Cozumel. Mr Sancho’s is just the one I heard about first — and most often. Apparently, there is a whole lot to do in Cozumel that is not available through the ship.)

Mr Sancho’s, it is.

So, I booked my first excursion without going through the cruise line. They took a $5 deposit on a $55 all-day fee, so we owe them money when we arrive. We need to have money for the taxi over there and the taxi back. The taxi ride back is the money many people forget about.

Also, we have to remember to get back to the ship on time. This is where all-you-can-drink could be a slight negative.

I will have to see if you tip the waiters enough, if they will pour you into a taxi to get back in time.

They do close at 5pm, so if you’re there at closing time, you’ve missed the ship.

Peoria, IL 26 May 2018

When you’re in a distant town over Memorial Day weekend, the first thought (for me) is “Where is the local baseball team?” They were out of town. The next thought, if you cruise as much as we do and the town has a river, is “What cruises are available?”

“Cruise” in this case is a relative term, since it’s not the ocean, it’s the Illinois River, and it’s not a cruise ship, it’s a paddlewheeler. A paddlewheeler! (So, it’s a boat, not a ship.)

I took three cruises in two weekends – including one with a Kenny Rogers impersonator. (I never saw that on Norwegian or Carnival!) I was on the Spirit of Peoria so much, the Captain recognized me when I boarded the Music Cruise. (The good Yelp review helped.)

I love watching the wake off an aft balcony of a cruise ship, but watching the wake being created is a bit magical. (Shot with a fisheye lens for artistic effect.)

 

The map is elsewhere on the site, but I figured I’d add it here. It’s not the longest cruise I’ve ever taken, but it may be longer than the one around Lake Ray Hubbard on the Harbor Lights outside Dallas. Maybe.