When I heard Royal Caribbean was offering a 4 night cruise with 2 stops at Perfect Day CocoCay I thought this is a great opportunity for me to get to check all the new stuff on CocoCay. It had been awhile since I had been on Royal Caribbean and since it was leaving from right in my backyard I couldn't pass it up.
Being so close to the port we drove over after lunch to board our cruise. Parking at the terminal is easy and so close to the ship. You do have to pay when you enter the parking garage instead of when you leave so that does help keep things moving when everyone is leaving at once. We found a parking place and since it was a bit later the check in area was pretty empty. I have the app on my phone and had already done most of the check in anyway. I had noticed that I had something called expedited arrival on my SeaPass and wasn't too sure what that meant but figured since we arrived later it didn't matter much. To my surprise I was told our room keys would be waiting for us outside our stateroom door. I thought this was pretty odd but went ahead and boarded. It was easy but also disappointing at the same time. We walked off the gangway onto an outside deck but there was no door there to get into the ship and no one there to direct us. I guess since we arrived later we missed the welcome onboard or who knows maybe there really isn't one. We wandered down the deck to find a door that would allow us to get into the ship and from there found our way to the elevators to get to the deck our room was on. Since we are seasoned cruisers we know how to handle boarding but it seemed odd to me that there wasn't any crew around to direct guests or even bombard guests with upsells. I guess I am used to walking on the ship and finding many crew just waiting to help and even just to say welcome onboard. I will admit I am a bit spoiled by the fanfare you get on Disney cruise when you board and they announce your family name as you enter into a grand atrium. There was none of that here.
I was a bit worried about our room keys so I wanted to make a bee line to our room. We found it easily but had we been first timers it would not have been so easy. Our room keys were sitting there on the number placard in a sealed envelope. This all just seems really strange to me since it seemed someone could walk down the hall and grab someone else's room keys but I guess they must have some type of security that wouldn't allow someone to use another person's key to buy anything. We grabbed our keys went into the room to drop our bags. Since it was a short cruise we opted for just carry ons which really makes things easier for us but not sure I would recommend that to everyone. If you got on the ship earlier the rooms might not have been open yet so you would be stuck lugging your stuff all around.
We realized the lunch buffet would be shutting down soon for the emergency drill so we went to grab a quick bite since we have the 8 pm dining time. Next up was the drill and then we explored the ship a little. Mariner of the Seas has a lot of fun extras and is nicer than most ships that do short cruises. When I first heard Mariner was coming to Port Canaveral I thought this would be a nice alternative for those that a Disney Cruise wasn't quite in their budget but want to add a cruise to their theme park vacation. The ship has an ice skating rink, Flowrider, rock wall, and the SkyPad as main attractions along with a few pools and sports options onboard like mini golf and basketball. There is definitely plenty to do for kids. Adults will find plenty of bars, shops, lounges, a casino, and even a Starbucks onboard.
Our first stop was Perfect Day CocoCay. There is no missing the waterpark features from the ship. I heard many kids come into the buffet for breakfast and get so excited when they saw what was waiting outside. There is an extra fee to enter the water park portion so I am sure there might have also been a few groans from parents after their kids saw it. Even if you didn't go to the waterpark there are plenty of free activities to do on the island. There was another ship in port with us that day so it was a bit more crowded than I had hoped for. I was hoping that maybe our second stop would be just us in port. Even with 2 ships there were plenty of beach chairs and shade to be found. There are a few beaches you can go to and grab a chair and enjoy or you can head to the largest freshwater pool on a private island and relax. There are some beach sports set up to enjoy along with a few options for lunch. Most of the food options are free but there were a few things that had an extra charge. There are a few bars around the island. Captain Jacks is right in the center and had live music anytime we went by. I have to say the bathrooms were the nicest I have seen on any of the private islands I have been to. I am going to do a whole page on our website about Cruise Line Private islands so look for that coming soon. While it is very bright and new looking I have to admit that one of my favorite things about other cruise line private islands is the rustic feel you get like you almost just came across this perfect little island by accident. There is none of that feeling on CocoCay.
After a nice beach day our next stop was Nassau. We have been here many times and don't usually get off. The weather was not that nice so a lot of guests opted to stay onboard. We were supposed to be back at CocoCay the next day but the bad weather we had in Nassau also hit there and blew the gangways into the docking spot so we were not able to go back and instead had a day at sea.
While on this cruise we checked out everything and caught an ice show and a show in the main theater. For dining I had picked the traditional dining and requested a table for 2. The first night we went to the dining room they took us to our table and it was a table for 8 and I said no thanks I requested a table for just 2. The host was able to find us a table for 2 down in the Anytime dining room which was fine. He made it so we didn't have to make reservations since we thought we had traditional dining. It is the same dining room just a different floor and for 3 out of 4 nights we had the same server which was nice. The food was OK for a short cruise but I feel like you get better food on longer cruises.
The ship has some things that were added recently like the Bamboo Lounge but then other parts of the ship show their age like the stateroom decor. I knew it was an older ship so it wasn't a surprise and I did like that being an older ship our room was bigger than then on the newer ships. All in all it was a nice quick getaway at a nice price.
Over the years I have been on many cruises varying in lengths of 2 - 30 nights. Each cruise is unique even when you are going to the same ports. I was just on a 4 night Royal Caribbean cruise and it inspired me to write this blog about the good, bad, and, ugly of a short cruise. These might not hold true for every short cruise but I think it is good to be prepared.
- If you cannot take a lot of time off of work or school a short cruise can be a great way to just get away for a few days.
- Since they are shorter they do tend to have a smaller price tag than a longer cruise.
- If you have never cruised before and are a bit worried about how you might feel on a cruise a short cruise can be a good way to test the waters so to speak.
- Some cruise line rewards programs count the number of cruises you do not the number of days so for those a couple short cruises could bump you up a level to get better perks on your next cruise.
- You won't have a lot of time to visit many ports so you could possibly have just 1 stop on a short cruise.
- You also won't have much time on the ship either so by the time you finally figure out where everything is it will be time to get off.
- You may not get to really relax as much on a short cruise.
- Shorter cruises just cannot offer the same experience as a longer cruise. If you are taking a short cruise for your first cruise you may decide cruising isn't for you but a longer cruise can be very different.
- Cruise lines know with the short cruises the ship will get a lot more wear and tear so they tend to use the older ships. If you have seen the ads for the fancy new ships with all the crazy extras don't expect to find that on your short cruise.
- Since they are older ships the decor may seem very outdated and just plain ugly.
- Many times on short cruises you get a bit more of a rowdy crowd looking to blow off steam and party hardy in a short time so it could get ugly.
Disney Cruise Line is one of the exceptions to the rule as they started using a brand new ship for 3 and 4 night cruises from the beginning. Disney Cruise Line is also the only premium cruise line to offer short cruises year round.
Princess Cruise Line has some pretty cool cruise technology called Ocean Medallion. I will admit I was very skeptical when I first heard about this new technology. I have been on many cruises and experienced the iffy internet so I wondered how using a technology that relies a lot on WiFi could possibly work. That being said Princess did have some bumps along the way when they first rolled it out but based on my recent cruise I think they have sorted through most of those now. Of course I was also sailing on a brand new ship which was the first to be built from the group up with the technology in place.
What Does Ocean Medallion Do?
This fun technology starts even before you leave home. Once have booked your cruise you are prompted to download the Medallion App (note that previously you were required to download multiple apps but I happy to say they have consolidated it to one). In the app you can do your online check in and upload both a security photo along with another photo if you would like something different to be your profile photo (this is the one that will show up your room door and other places). Once you have completed the online check in you are able to confirm the order for your Medallion. Princess will ship these to you free of charge with the basic lanyard. You also have the option to add on other accessories if you would like to have other ways to wear your Medallion. I chose to stick with the free option. The Medallion itself is very nice. They are about the size of a quarter and will have your name and sail date printed on them along with being color coded for the level your are in the Captain's Circle program (side note Captain's Circle is the loyalty program for Princess and there are a few different colors based on how many times you have sailed with Princess).
When you arrive at the port have your medallion out and you can take the quick line for guests with medallions. This was the fastest check in process I have ever had! Now the fun stuff begins!
Once onbaord your Medallion will unlock your door as you get to your room so no more having to get your room key out to tap it or anything. Just walk up to your room wearing your medallion and your photo will appear and your room is unlocked. There are games in the app both Casino games and games just for fun along with some videos you can watch. You can also create an OceanTagalong which like your onboad avatar for playing games and interacting with the large screens around the ship. All the of fun games and videos are free but if you choose the Casino games those are played just like you were in the casino.
There is also OceanCompass which not only helps you find your way around the ship but it will also help you find other guests that are using the medallion. I tried this out a few times on my cruise and it was kind of fun to see where someone else was on the ship. You do have to both agree to being tracked before this will work those so you cannot just stalk some random guest. I can see this being really handy for parents or large groups traveling together.
The daily schedule of events is listed and you can choose to bookmark certain things you want to attend. You can also reserve things like dining and shore excursion from the app. Last but not least, what I think is really the best feature is being able to order things from your app and they will be delivered to wherever your with your Medallion (within reason of course). If you are too far from something the option to choose that location to order from won't show up. I first used this from my room to get robes delivered. It was so easy and so quick. Then we tried it out up in the buffet area to get a couple slices of pizza delivered to our table from Slice the pizza counter out by the pool. It was quick and so much easier than standing in line outside to get them. You can order drinks from the nearest bar (TIP - as of now they are offering your first drink free when you order from the app. Not sure how long that will last but if they are still offering it you will see that pop-up when you go to order). When you order anything from the app you can track the progress in the app so you will it go from processing to delivering. It will even tell you the name of the person delivering your order and might ask you to hold up your medallion to help the server find you. The server will know your name and photo so they will call your name and will make sure you match the photo too.
I didn't have any problems using this fun technology during my cruise and I really do think it improves the experience a lot! The one thing I am really surprised about is that Disney Cruise Line didn't do this first.
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.
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