Last week I was able to sail on a short cruise for the new Sky Princess. I had just 3 nights to explore this wonderful ship. Our cruise made a stop at Princess's private beach in the Bahamas called Princess Cays. I am going to write a few blogs about this cruise but this one is just a general review. I am also going to write a blog about the Medallion Experience which is exclusive to Princess Cruises and great innovation. I am also going to write a comparison of this cruise and the 3 night cruise I did on Norwegian's newest ship.
The Sky Princess is the first vessel built from the ground up with the Princess MedallionClass experience. I was very excited to try out this new technology. I will explain it all in the blog I write just about Medallion but basically it makes check in and boarding faster and makes things onboard super convenient.
I had been on a Princess Cruise earlier this year in Alaska so I have experienced one of their older but recently refreshed ships so I had an idea what to expect. Princess is a premium cruise line and you can easily tell that as soon as you board. I love the beautiful Piazza with its swirling spiral staircases and glass sculptures. The Piazza is at the center of the ship and really is a hub of activity. On the lovely marble tiled floor in the center there was lots of live entertainment going on throughout the cruise. The 3 decks that open up to the Piazza are lined with shops, bars, lounges, and even a couple dining options are open to the piazza..
The rest of the ship is just as lovely with a feel of luxury throughout.
You will find the usual things for a large cruise ships and if you have sailed Princess you will most likely find your favorites are on this new ship as well.
There are many dining options both complimentary and specialty ones with an extra charge. I really love that they have a pizza restaurant, Alfredo's, that is complimentary. While I do enjoy Slice which offers pizza slices on the pool deck it is really nice to also have an indoor option where you are seated and can order a pizza off a menu. By the way Princess was voted Best Pizza at Sea! On this short cruise we obviously couldn't try everything but I would never cruise Princess without getting something from the Chocolate Journeys which is exclusive to Princess and created by Norman Love. Honestly I could be happy eating just pizza and chocolate I think. Oh wait I forgot one other thing to add to that and that's ice cream. There is a soft serve counter on the pool deck that is complimentary along with a gelato shop in the piazza that has a small charge. All of the food we ate was great and the servers we had were also great.
Beside what was offered in the Pizza there is also a main theater that offers nightly shows some of which are rather big productions. Princess is also known for being the first to offer Movies Under the Stars and the Sky Princess of course has that big screen. There is also a new twist to the big screen on this ship that I will mention when I talk about the staterooms. There are also a few lounges throughout offering live entertainment. We really enjoyed the new Take Five which is a fun Jazz themed lounge.
You have the typical options for staterooms - inside, window, balcony, and suites. Sky Princess is currently the ship offering the largest balconies at sea with the Sky Suites. These suites have wrap around balconies that face both the ocean and the main pool area with prime viewing of the big screen. A perk to the Sky Suites is that you could choose which movies are played during your cruise. You can even host a really fun catered viewing party on your balcony. I was not lucky enough to have one of these suites on this cruise but the stateroom I did have was very nice. The rooms are decorated with light neutral colors and offer plenty of storage space. Of course it wouldn't be a Princess Cruise without being able to water The Love Boat episodes on demand in your stateroom. There are other on demand options as well at no extra charge.
There are a couple pools to choose from, one of which is adult only and sort of secluded which is a very nice touch. There are a lot of hot tubs scattered around on 2 of the top decks so you should be able to find one that isn't too crowded. The Sanctuary is also Princess favorite where you can reserve either a very comfy lounge chair or cabana for the day or entire cruise if you would like. We really enjoyed our time in the Sanctuary on our last cruise but with just 3 days to see everything we only did a walk through instead.
The Spa oboard is located way down on Deck 5 all the way forward, which I thought was odd. I am used to spas being up top and connected to the fitness center but that is not the case on this ship. The Thermal Suite, called The Enclave, is the largest for Princess. It has heated lounges, a few saunas, aromatherapy showers, and a hydrotherapy pool. I opted for buying a pass to The Enclave for this cruise instead of the Sanctuary. Now that i have done both I am not sure which I like better. I think I will write a blog just about both of these experiences since I like them so much.
There are also kids clubs which were very nice offering lots of fun stuff and separated the kids into 3 different rooms based on age. The Teen Lounge is somewhere I would like to hang out with lots of comfy leather sofas and chairs and plenty of large windows to get a nice view. There is also a sports deck with things like basketball, mini-golf, and new to Princess an Escape room.
Last but not least, Princess Cays. I love a private stop and Princess Cays did not disappoint. The beach was nice and the path ways mostly paved for easier walking. There were plenty of lounge chairs both in an out of the sun. There were 2 buffets sections for lunch one on either side of the island. The food was your typical beach bbq lunch on a cruise line private stop. There are also some shops offering Bahamian items and other souvenirs. There are also plenty of excursion options. We rented a Hobie cat for an hour an really enjoyed sailing around the clear waters across the front of the beach. There was plenty of space to sail which made it more fun. The one drawback to Princess Cays is it requires a tender to get in and back to the ship. Many of the cruise line private stops require tender so it wasn't a big deal.
I recently got to cruise onboard Norwegian Cruise Line's newest ship the Norwegian Encore as part of a travel agent preview cruise. It was just a 3 night cruise with a stop at Norwegian's private island Great Stirrup Cay. Three days really wasn't enough time to see all this amazing ship has to offer so it is a good thing the regular cruises on this ship are usually 7 nights. The Encore is 1,094 feet long and 20 decks high. She can accommodate around 4,000 guests. The Encore is part of the Breakaway Plus class of ships in the Norwegian fleet. The Bliss is sister ship to the Encore and they are almost twins but you can easily tell them apart by the design on the front of the ship. The Bliss was designed with Alaska in mind so it has a Wyland design that includes whales and other sea life. The Encore is a little more abstract and brightly colored with it's hull designed by Eduardo Arranz-Bravo. Most of the ship inside is very similar to the Bliss with a few slight changes like La Cucina is replaced with Onda by Scarpetta for the Italian specialty restaurant. Both still have the Go-Karts and laser tag on the top deck. The Encore has a new feature called Galaxy Pavilion which features a bunch of virtual reality games you can play. The Galaxy Pavilion took over the spot where Spice H2O is on the Bliss and personally I preferred having an outdoor area that was adult only instead of the Galaxy Pavilion so I think they made a bad choice on that one. I did enjoy the go-karts and laser tag was fun too. The big production onboard Encore is Kinky Boots along with another original show called Choir of Man. Norwegian is known for excellent shows and you do want to be sure to plan ahead and reserve your seating for the big shows as they tend to be full in advance.
Kelly Clarkson is Godmother to the Encore and I think it is really great how Norwegian designed part of the kids club using her book River Rose as inspiration. One new design onboard that had a lot of people talking was the main chandelier. On the Bliss it is a glittering chandelier full of sparkling crystals. On the Encore I thought the chandelier was still wrapped in bubble wrap since it was still so new but I asked and found out that nope that was the actual chandelier and they are calling it "art" but I was not alone in thinking it was ugly.
If you are looking to splurge and want to feel like you almost have your own private ship inside the ship then the Haven is where you should book your room. The rooms in the Haven are simply amazing! The Haven also has it's own lounge, pool, restaurant, sun deck and more. While I am talking about spoiling yourself I also need to mention the new section of Norwegian's private island called Silver Cove. This is like a private beach on a private island. Our cruise was the first to stop at Great Stirrup Cay after Silver Cove opened. We got to tour the Villas and see the amazing private beach that comes with the Villas. I am not sure I totally understand why anyone needs a bedroom in a villa on a private beach when all I would want to do is be on the beach but these Villas have full bedrooms and bathrooms.
I think Encore is a great name for this ship as I can see many guests wanting to sail on her again and again.
PS - Stay tuned for new sections on the website dedicated cruise line private islands and my stateroom reviews.
I don't know about you but I really only use plastic and sometimes apps to pay for things. I rarely use paper money which also means I rarely have that handy. When it comes time to travel I realize shoot I need tip money! I think this is a very important step to add to your packing list since if you are like me you might need to go to a bank or something to get some small bills. I try to stash a few in my travel bags so even those times when it gets a little hectic before traveling and I forget to plan for tips I at least have something. On my recent trip to Jamaica it wasn't until we were at the hotel that I realized my stash was out of small bills. Luckily I did have a larger bill and was able to pop down to the front desk and they were able to change it out for some smaller bills still in American dollars. Planning for tips in other countries can be even trickier since you might need to make sure when you exchange money that you get smaller denominations. Of course traveling to other countries brings up a whole other set of questions when it comes to tipping too so below are some of my tips for tipping.
#1 - Pre plan for as many tips as you can think of and have those small bills already set aside and have some extra for the times you might not have thought of.
#2 Exchange at least a little money before traveling. If you are going somewhere that uses other currency it is best to exchange some at home so you have at least a small amount handy for the first few people you might need to tip when you arrive.
#3 If traveling to another country it is best to look up what the policy tends to be on tipping, In some countries tipping is looked at as an insult.
#4 Check all of your bills. While on vacation there might be times when an automatic tip has been added to your bill so be sure to double check your before leaving a tip.
Here is a quick list of people you should be thinking about tipping while traveling. Of course this isn't all of them and in some cases some of these people may not be allowed to accept tips.
1. Transportation related people.
- Taxi/Uber/Lyft/ or car service drivers - suggested amount is 15 - 20%
- Shuttle driver that might either take you from an off airport parking lot to the airport or from the airport to your hotel - suggested a couple dollars maybe more if you have a lot of heavy bags they lifted for you.
- Skycaps - if you use them it is suggested that you give a couple dollars per bag.
- Bellhops - suggested a few dollars per bag
- Housekeeping - suggested a few dollars per day and you really should do tip each day in case different people work each day.
- Hotel Concierge - this one can be tricky and really depends on what they do for you. If they set up some simple dining reservations that would be a smaller tip than if they scored you tickets for a really hot event.
- Dining - as usual you would tip your server like any other restaurant you would eat at while home. If you order room service a few dollars tips should be given to the person that delivers your food.
Tipping on a cruise can vary based on the cruise line. Most will now add a pre-paid gratuity that gets added to your bill automatically at the start of the cruise. This will cover the main people taking care of you during the cruise such as your room attendant and servers at meals.
- Bartenders - many times your bar bill will have an added gratuity already on there or if you have a drink package a pre-paid gratuity was added to that package price so it is up to you if you want to add more. If you have a really great bartender you might want to reward that. Some people like to start out the cruise with an extra tip to the bartender in hopes that will get them better service throughout the cruise.
- Spa treatments - most times a gratuity will be auto added to your bill so check first but if you had a really wonderful experience you can always add more.
- Porters - at the end of the cruise you will have to collect your luggage and go through the terminal. There will be porters available if you would prefer to have someone else transport you bags out of the terminal for you and just like bellhops should be tipped accordingly.
- Room service - most cruises offer 24 hour room service and while the food is usually included in your cruise price you should tip the delivery person a couple dollars.
- Guide - if you take an tour or excursion with a guide you should tip them and you can base how much you give on how good of a guide they were and how long they were with you.
- Driver - if your excursion or tour involves a bus or some type of vehicle that got you safely to your tour and back you should leave a little tip.
Tipping should be looked at as a way of saying thank you to someone for doing something that made your travel a little better so don't worry too much over who and how much and just do what feels right to you at that time.
I spent last weekend in Jamaica checking out some all inclusive resorts. This trip was a reward for my sales in 2018 so it was sort of a working reward. I am not someone that would typically choose an all inclusive resort for my vacation but I know a lot of people really enjoy them. I toured a few different properties so I was able to really see that there is something for everyone but it is a matter of choosing the right resort for the guest.
In some cases one company might run several different resort types and they are all connected to each other so while staying at one you also have access to the others. For example, I was staying in Secrets St James and on either side of my resort were other resorts run by the same company. Anyone at Secrets St James has access to everything at Secrets Wild Orchid and vice versa. You actually might not even realize they were 2 different resorts though because they seemed very connected and similar. On the other side of my resort was Breathless, which is also run by AmResorts, but if you wanted to be able to enjoy that resort you had to be staying in a preferred club room at Secrets. However, everyone staying at Breathless could use everything at Secrets St James and Secrets Wild Orchid. There was a walking bridge that connected the resorts so you would have to show your room key to walk over to the Breathless side. There was a noticeable difference between Breathless and Secrets. The guests at Secrets were mainly couples and I would say most were mid 30s and up. It was a laid back vibe at the resort with plenty of dining options and a bit of nightlife but it was mostly about hanging by the pool and on the beach. Over at Breathless the crowd was a good bit younger and less couples. It was much more of a party resort.
I also toured some resorts that were not connected to me mine so I was able to see the difference when there are not multiple resorts connected together. One of these was Zoetry, which is a smaller more boutique type all inclusive. This resort had a max capacity of about 100 guests compared to the almost 1,000 at the 2 Secrets resorts I was at. Zoetry is a resort for those looking to really getaway and de-stress. It is small and quiet but still right on the water and includes pretty much all the same things as the bigger resorts. Personally this is my idea of vacation, however if you were someone looking to party you would not enjoy this resort. Since there is not another resort connected that you could just hop over to you would want to be sure you pick the resort that is offering what you are really looking for in a vacation.
Generally, an all inclusive resort is going to include your food and beverages as part your hotel package so they offer one upfront price. Most will have a beach and pool and include some water sports. If you want to explore something outside the resort many times they will have excursion options they can recommend with a supplier they trust. There is something for almost any budget and any age group so I can see why all inclusives are a popular vacation option.
I personally prefer cruising to almost any other type of vacation but as a travel agent I do always want to research all options for my clients. All Inclusive resorts are a popular option so I have made it a point to get to check out some of them. Just like cruising there are many different types of All Inclusive resorts and something for all budgets. There are some that are adult only and others that are family friendly.
I am on my way to Jamaica for a stay at an All Inclusive resort so I thought this might be a good time to compare going to an All Inclusive vs a Cruise. Both vacation options offer some similar things. They both offer accommodations and most meals in your upfront cost. The pros and cons really vary based on what you are looking for in a vacation.
You might want to pick a cruise if...
#1 If you want to see more than one destination during your vacation
#2 If you are not a big drinker and don't want to be paying for alcohol to be included.
#3 If you like the idea that if the weather is bad your vacation can change where it is going to avoid the weather.
#4 If you want to avoid flying since many cruise starting points could be within driving distance. Even if you cannot drive to the starting port you might find cheaper flights for a cruise than flying to an island destination for an All Inclusive.
#5 If you do not have a passport. While it isn't recommend it is possible to take a cruise out of the United States and not have a passport.
You might want to pick an All Inclusive if...
#1 If you really want a vacation where you really don't do much at all Most All Inclusives will not have much scheduled for each day so you can just lay around the pool or on the beach.
#2 If you want to spend more time in one place and be able to go to the beach at any time (most of the All Inclusive resorts will have some kind of beach even if you can't always swim there).
#3 If you are a big drinker and like a vacation that includes all you can drink in your upfront cost.
#4 If you want to have the option for some water sports that won't cost you extra (most resorts will have some type of water sports like kayaking included)
#5 If you get motion sickness and prefer a vacation that stays on solid ground.
If you are unsure what might work best for you a good travel (shameless plug) will be happy to help you figure that out.
It used to be that you could earn some VIP perks on cruises by booking a suite or by being very loyal to a particular cruise line. Now, some cruise lines have come up with a new purchase option for guests that might want a little more of a VIP feeling when cruising but are not in a suite or have many past cruises.
Here is the list of cruise lines currently offering an option to pay for some type of extra perks. I have put them in alphabetical order but it is good to point out that this list includes all 3 of the Mass Market Cruise lines and just 1 Premium Cruise line. The Mass Market ships are going always be the biggest ships sailing with sometimes almost 6,000 guests so on those paying to avoid lines sort of makes sense. Holland American is a Premium so their ships are smaller and offer a bit more upscale cruise so you will see the perks they offer in their program are a bit different.
Carnival - Faster to the Fun
What it includes -
1. Priority Security, Check in, and Boarding. You get to board the ship after Diamond and Platinum guests and those traveling in Deluxe Suites. You do not get access to the Captains Lounge which is only for the Diamond, Platinum and Deluxe Suite guests.
2. First Access to your Stateroom. Your room is ready to enjoy as soon as you board.
3. Priority Luggage. Your bags will be one of the first that get delivered.
4. Priority Guest Service. Your own line or phone extension to talk guest services onboard.
5. Priority Dining Reservations. You get priority assignment for the Main Dining room and specialty restaurant reservations. Platinum and Diamond get cleared first and does not apply to Your Time Dining.
6. Tender Priority. When at a port with a tender to get onshore you will get priority times which can get you ashore faster.
7. Debarkation Choice. At the end of the cruise you can choose either early or late debarkation.
What Does It Cost*
1. The price is per room and not per person so just one guest in the room has to purchase and everyone gets it.
2. It must be purchased prior to the cruise. It is limited to a certain number of guests so best to buy as soon as possible.
3. Prices vary based on cruise length and sometimes the ship. Starting at $39.95 on a 2 day cruise up to $119.95 on an 8 day or longer cruise.
4. Not available on Carnival Journeys, Europe Cruises, or cruises out of certain ports.
Holland America - Club Orange
What it includes
1. Complimentary Stateroom Upgrade. Upgraded to the best available stateroom within your category at time of purchase. That means if you have an inside room your upgrade will still be an inside room but a better room.
2. Exclusive Dining Options and Premium in-room Breakfast. Priority access to specialty restaurant reservations and a premium menu for in room breakfast. The 2 newest ships have a private dining venue other ships get priority seating with expanded menu.
3. Priority Access. Priority check in and debarkation. Also have a priority line for guests services and shore excursions desk.
4. Tender Priority. When in port with tenders you get priority access times that will get you ashore first.
5. Dedicated Concierge Hotline
6. Upgraded Amenities. Get a welcome glass of sparkling wine at dinner the first night, premium bathrobes, exclusive Club Orange tote bag and Club Orange key card.
7. Special Event -Invitation to a special onboard event chosen by the ship's captain. These exclusive experiences may include a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship; a private spa and beauty consultation; or a coffee chat with onboard musicians, performers or cooking show hosts.
What Does It Cost*
1. Club Orange cost applies to 1st and 2nd guests in a room but if there are 3rd or 4th guests they receive it at no extra cost. The price listed is per person for the 1st and 2nd guests and both must purchase.
2. It is available for a limited number of non-suite guests on each sailing. Guests in Neptune or Pinnacle Suites get all the benefits (except the room upgrade) of Club Orange at not extra cost.
3. Must be purchased prior to the cruise start.
4. Price is $35 per person, per day on the 2 newest ships Nieuw Statendam and Koningsdam. All other ships are $25 per person, per day.
NCL - Priority Access
What It Includes
1. Priority Security, Check in, and Boarding
2. Tender Priority Access.
3. Priority Debarkation
4. Daily Complimentary Standard Room Service Breakfast
5. $50 Spa Discount (per person on port days only)
6. Complimentary Canapes (second day of cruise)
What Does it Cost*
1. The cost is per room
2. Guests staying in the Haven and Owners Suites along with Latitude Guests that are Platinum, Platinum Plus, or Ambassador levels cannot purchase but that is because they already get all of these benefits.
3. Only a limited number of Priority Access is available so best to book as early as possible
4. Prices vary by length of cruise
Royal Caribbean - The Key
What it Includes
1. Priority Check in and Boarding
2. Exclusive Welcome Lunch in Main Dining room with menu from Chops Grille
3. Carry on Bag Drop off in Main Dining Room. This means you can bring your carry on when you board and drop it off in the welcome lunch and it will be delivered to your stateroom for you instead of having to carry it around until rooms are open to guests.
4.Private Hours at Onboard Activities like Rock Climbing and Flow Rider and more
5. Priority Departure at Port from ship to shore
6. Seats in the Exclusive VIP seating section for shows in the Main Theater, Aqua Theater, Studio B, and Two70
7. VOOM Surf and Steam 1 Device High Speed Internet - 1 package per paying guest
8. Exclusive Debarkation Day Ala Carte Breakfast and choice of departure time
What Does it Cost*
1. Must be Purchased Prior to your cruise
2. Price is per person and everyone over age 6 in the room must get it even if just one person wants it.
3. The number sold is limited.
4. Cost is $25 per person per night and must be purchased for all nights of the cruise
*prices and inclusions always subject to change at anytime
I have mixed feelings about these pay for perks options. As a travel agent I want my client to have the best experience and if avoiding lines or getting some other perks that they are willing to pay for does that for them then I am glad to be able to offer that option. However as a guest on certain cruise lines that I might have earned some of the perks the hard way I am not so sure I am happy about people being able to jump right to them just by paying more. If I paid the big bucks for a suite on a cruise which entitles me to a lot of perks I would not like it that someone else can buy their way into those perks. It doesn't have quite the exclusive benefit feel when you open up to others to purchase. I am also worried that this will start a new trend of cruise lines adding more to their nickle and dime list that I really do not like. Personally I always liked the feeling of a cruise being mostly all inclusive but over the years it has changed a lot and now there are a many extras you might have to budget for on top of your cruise fare. There are still some cruise lines that do offer a more inclusive up front fare however that makes them look a lot more expensive at first glance so my advice on this is to really look at what you are getting for that low up front price. For example, instead of paying to avoid lines you could just choose a smaller cruise ship where there won't be any lines for anyone.
What are your feelings on these pay for perks options?
There is plenty of festive Halloween fun to be found in Central Florida. Some of these festivities start as early as August (I know crazy to think about Halloween in August but they do it). Orlando's 3 main Theme Parks each have their own spin the the holiday and there is something for everyone in the family.
For the Preschoolers
Sea World's Halloween Spooktacular. This year it runs weekends September 21 - October 27. The event is just on weekends but it is also a free event which is nice. There is a trick or treat trail where everyone can get their fill of sweet treats. They also have some dance parties with characters and games. The event is during the day from 11 am - 7pm so perfect for the little ones that do not stay up late. There also isn't anything too scary or creepy to freak out the little ones. Sea World also recently added Sesame Street Land which will have a Halloween Parade. I attended the Spookacular last weekend and I will say the drawback to a free event is you get bigger crowds but it is nice not to have to spend more money to enjoy the fun of trick or treating and characters out in costumes. Sesame Street Land is really cute and does make you feel like you are walking down the street we all grew up with. I was so happy to get to experience it with my nephews and ride some of the rides with them (most do require you to be with a child to ride)
Even though the Spooktacular event is only on weekends you will still find decorations and holiday touches in the shows during the weekdays.
Know before you go -
#1 - It is free but that also might mean it is more crowded.
#2 - All guests are welcome to dress up in costumes, although only those 12 and younger are allowed to wear masks. Guests who are ages 13 and older may not wear masks or hoods in the park, and all costumes are subject to the normal dress code for the park. In addition, face painting is not permitted on any guests unless it is done by park artists.
#3 - Keep in mind that while dressing in costumes is fun it is still Florida during the day so most likely will be hot so choose costumes accordingly.
#4 - The treat trail runs along the very right side of the park as you enter, closest to Sesame Street Land so it will get very crowded just after the Halloween Parade. I visited while the parade was going on and that seemed to be the best time.
#5 - If you are looking for a quieter spot with some shade to take a break from the Halloween fun I recommend going up to Shamu Stadium (as long as there isn't a show going on) there was plenty of open space and shade and bathrooms with no crowds.
#6 - You can bring your own trick or treat bag but the park does also sell some as well.
Fun for the Whole Family
Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party in Disney's Magic Kingdom. This is a separate ticket event so you do need to shell out some extra bucks to get to attend this one (tickets start at $105 per person and go higher for more popular dates). It is offered select nights August 16 - November 1 so it is the longest running of any of the Halloween events. The number of tickets sold is also limited so in theory it shouldn't feel overly crowded. There is trick or treating, a parade, and special fireworks and shows, along with characters in costumes. Most of the attractions are also open during the party.
This event runs 7pm - Midnight which is why it doesn't always work best for the little ones. Like Sea World everyone can dress in costumes but there are some rules. Mickey's Not So Scary does cover the whole park so not just a section like Sea World's.
Know before you go -
#1 - The party doesn't start until 7 pm however you can enter Magic Kingdom with just your party ticket beginning at 4 pm. That means if you do not have a park hopper during your vacation this could be one day you get to go to 2 parks in one day or if you want to buy one less day on your park ticket you could do that as long as you are OK not going to a park until 4 om that day.
#2 - Disney does have some more costume rules than Sea World so be sure to check those out. Don't forget to keep the Florida weather in mind that even though this one is at night it really won't be cold.
#3 - If there are 2 parades scheduled plan to go to the second one for smaller crowds.
#4 - Save your trick or treating until later so you are not lugging around a bag of candy all night.
#5 - Take it easy during the day and maybe even take a nap so you can enjoy the party all the way until Midnight
#6 - Disney does give out candy bags for free.
Brave Adults and Older Kids
Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. This runs September 6 - November 2. Separate tickets are required and start at $67.99 per person. The event runs either 6:30 pm - 1:00 am or 6:30 pm - 2:00 am depending on dates. This one actually comes with a warning that might be too intense for young children and not recommended for anyone younger than 13. I admit I am a big chicken and that is why I haven't done this one yet. This event takes place in Universal Studios only (not Islands of Adventure). There are 10 haunted houses along with a few regular attractions open during the party. Unlike the other 2 Halloween events you are not allowed to dress in costume for this one.
Know before you go -
#1 - Download the app for Halloween Horror nights as it will show you wait times and a few other things.
#2 - If you have a regular park ticket along with your Horror night ticket you are able to stay in the park and wait in the Stay and Scream area while the park changes over for the party. This will save you a lot of time. Another way to save time is stay onsite at one of the Universal resorts since there is a dedicated entrance for resort guests. If you do not have either of these options you will want to arrive at the park at least an hour before the event as the line and security to get in can take awhile.
#3 - There are add on options that add extra chills such as a Horror Nights Express Pass which lets you skip the regular line for the houses once and rides. There is also an RIP tour that will take you on a guided VIP tour of everything.
#4 - Start in the back of the park for the best chance of getting to see the most in one night. If you really want to be sure you see it all you might need to plan for 2 nights and you can save money buying a multi-night ticket.
#5 - Know the rules like no food, drinks, recording, flash photography, flashlights, laser pens, or ecvs are allowed in any of the haunted houses.
#6 - This one is more my personal tip to you - Don't go alone! This just seems too scary to do without a buddy along.
I know it might be too late to still plan for one of these events this year but this will give you a pretty good idea for next year.
Ok so I admit when our ship is about to leave port I would head up to the upper deck and see if I can catch any last minute runners that are close to missing the boat. I would also laugh when I hear the announcement over the speaker looking for certain guests that are not showing as back onboard as the time to depart approaches. However I don't think I will do that anymore since I was almost one of those people.
It was on our Alaska cruise in the Juneau. If you have been there before you have probably ridden or at least seen the Mt Roberts tram to the top of the mountain. Depending on where your ship docked you could have been almost parked right in front of it. On this visit our ship was right there so we thought why not take a ride since we hadn't done it on our previous Alaska cruise. We rode to the top and got out to walk around a little and then it started raining, which wasn't a big surprise since it is part of a rainforest, but then we heard thunder and saw some lightning which seemed very odd. We headed back inside to catch a ride back down only to find that the tram wasn't running due to the storm. At that point the line was already pretty long and no idea when it would start running again. We asked about walking down and were told it was about 2 and half miles so we thought that isn't too bad and might be faster than waiting. We stated walking and were enjoying the trek despite a little rain but then it just seemed like we were walking forever and never getting any closer to the end. We passed a few people walking up and ask how much further and each time they said about a mile even though we passed them about 15 minutes apart. It is pretty wooded so you couldn't get an idea of where you were until we finally got to a spot where we could see out to the water and realized we were still very high up and only had about an hour to make it back to the boat. We picked up the pace and finally came out of the trail but realized that it came out a bit out of town and no where near the ships. Panic started to set in as we realized we had about 30 minutes to get back to the boat. Luckily a car was driving by and we flagged them down and they thankfully didn't mind giving us a lift back to the ship. Even with the ride we still were cutting it close. We were so grateful to have made it back on the ship that we didn't even realize that things were a little off and then we heard the announcement that the power was out. We found out that the same lightning strike that stopped the tram also knocked out port to the port. That caused the ship to leave port a bit later so we might have made it if we hadn't found a ride back to the boat but I won't take that chance again.
There were a few things running through my head as I thought we might miss the boat and I realized I really was not prepared. Since that was a close call I was sure to look up what what happens if you miss the boat. I learned that the ship will make a couple attempts to be sure you are not already onboard including check in your room. If you are not onboard they will try to collect a few of your things to leave with the port agent for you. It is then up to you to either get to the next port or home.
Here are my tips for being prepared when you get off the ship:
#1 - Be sure to take a copy of your passport with you when you get off the ship. You don't want to take your actual passports as you really do not want to lose those.
#2 - Know where your passports are in the room If you are pretty sure you are going to miss the boat you can call the ship and have guest services go into your room and get your passport to leave with the port agent. They can also grab other important things like medication. If you are not able to call the ship to let them know you are not going to make it someone from guests services will go to your room and attempt to find your passports anyway. If they can easily find them they will get them to the port agent.
#3 - Book with a travel agent (yes I know it sounds like a shameless plug but your agent really is your best advocate). You might not have the ship phone number handy on your excursion but my guess is your travel agent phone number should be in your phone somewhere so call and then your agent can take care of helping you make your plan for what comes next.
Here are a couple tips for how to best avoid missing the ship -
#1 - Book a shore excursion through the cruise line or a 3rd party that offers a back to ship guarantee as that is your best protection since it is more likely the ship will wait for a ship sponsored excursion. If for some reason the ship leaves without you the cruise line or tour provider will take care of the arrangements to get you to the next port. If you do choose a 3rd party be sure you research and know what their policy is for a late return to port.
#2 - If you do go off on your own in port be very mindful of the time you need to be back on the ship and account for the time needed to get back to the port and go through any possible security. Some of the bigger busier ports could have multiple ships in at the same time and they might leave around the same time so there could be lines. Also remember that the time ships leaves and all aboard is not the same thing. The all aboard time is earlier than the actual depart time. Another thing to be sure of is that your watch is set to the correct time since sometimes on your cruise you might cross time zones.
#3 - Make sure you really know where your ship is docked. If there are multiple ships in port with you there could be multiple docks being used so just saying to your taxi take me back to the port might not work out as easy as it sounds.
My biggest tip is for those of you that choose to cruise without a passport - WHATEVER YOU DO YOU CANNOT MISS THE BOAT! Without a passport you really could be in trouble if you miss the boat.
A passport really is the best form of ID to have when you travel but if you do not currently have one you shouldn't feel like you do not have options for your next vacation.
Did you know that there are a lot of cruises you could take without a passport? If you are looking at a closed loop cruise out of a US port you can cruise without a passport. Any cruise that starts from a US port and returns to that same port is considered a closed loop cruise.
That means you can cruise Alaska without a passport as long as your ship leaves and returns to WA or CA and not Vancouver.
You can also cruise Hawaii either by choosing a cruise that leaves from CA or there is one cruise line that does just Hawaii.
You can leaf peep and cruise around Canada/New England as long as your cruise is a round trip and not a one way.
It is very easy to visit Mexico, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and just about all the Caribbean islands since there are so many US ports offering round trip cruises to these destinations.
There are reasons people might be looking for travel options that do not require a passport.
- Maybe your passport just expired or you just don't have a passport yet and you found a great last minute deal on a cruise.
- Maybe you do not want the extra expense especially for kids since those passports are only good for 5 years.
- Maybe you tend to lose things or forget things so knowing that you could still cruise even if you misplaced or forgot your passport makes you feel better.
It is important to also be aware of the downside to not having a passport.
- If you do choose to cruise without a passport be sure you know that there might be some ports that won't allow you off the ship without a passport, such as Martinique.
- If something were to happen and you had to cut your cruise short due to an emergency you would not be able to fly home from another country.
- If for some reason the ship had to change itinerary and return to a different port at the end of the cruise you could have issues.
You can check out - https://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/western-hemisphere-travel-initiative -- for all the latest info on traveling without a passport and what you will need in its place.
Souvenir shopping is a part of traveling but you might not always know what to to buy. Part of what you buy while on vacation may depend on different things. If you are traveling without your kids you might be on the look out for something the kids will like. If you travel frequently you might not really want to bring much back at all but are looking to find that one special item that will remind you of just this trip. You might have a collection and there is that one particular thing you like to buy from everywhere you go.
#1 Collections - if you collect something in particular from each place you visit that can make your shopping a little easier since you already know what you are looking for. If you haven't started a collection yet but you want some ideas my suggestion would be to choose something small. Magnets from each city can be a good one since they are not too expensive and do not take up much space. Other things people tend to collect are mugs, pins, shot glasses, decals, snowglobes, ornaments, and key chains. These tend to be cheap souvenirs which can help if you don't want to spend much but on the other hand cheap also could be bad since usually it also means it most likely wasn't made in the place you visited.
#2 Authentic souvenirs - if you want to buy something that has more meaning to it you will want to find something that is made in the place you are visiting and maybe is something that area is really known for. If you do a quick google search you can find out what authentic souvenir to shop for wherever you visit. For example, when we visit the Netherlands we always bring back some cheese that is fresh off the farm. Wooden shoes might also be a fun authentic souvenir from Holland but if you are really looking for authentic it is best to find a shop where you can watch them being made, or at least just double check them to make sure they don't have a made in china sticker. Visiting a fair or outdoor market in the town square is usually a good place to find local items.
Alaska has set up the Made in Alaska program which makes it easy for you to know you are buying an item that is authentic and made right in Alaska.
#3 Clothing - My husband loves to buy a tee-shirt and hat for almost everywhere we visit. These can be a nice reminder of places you have been and is also more useful than some of the other things you might find in the tourist shops. You might also want to shop for clothing specific to that area, for example a wool sweater from Norway or kilt in Scotland. Clothing might also end up being a souvenir out of necessity like when you forget to pack something or when the weather isn't what you were expecting and you need something like a jacket.
#4 - Food and Drink items - this one kind of goes along with the authentic souvenirs since if you are buying food items they are most likely food that is associated with where you are visiting. I like to try chocolate just about anywhere we go even if that city or country might not be known for chocolate. Food can be a fun souvenir to share with friends and family when you return but just remember it is not exactly the longest lasting souvenir. Also it is important to make sure that any food or drink item you might be choosing to bring back it allowed back into your country as some things might be banned.
#5 - Photos/Postcards - photos are a great reminder of where you went and what you saw. If you are not the best photographer or you are visiting somewhere that is hard to really capture then postcards are great alternative to taking the photos yourself. Since I travel a lot I don't usually bring anything back for anyone but I do always try to send at least one postcard back to family. My dad collects stamps so the postcard is like 2 souvenirs in one for him.
No matter what type souvenir you choose it will be a nice reminder from your trip.
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