Day 4 - Magdalena Bay
Today is all about the Gray Whales. We had to be up early and ready to go as we needed to board vans that would take us over to the Pacific side of the peninsula. It was about a 3 hour ride over to the other side but we did make a pit stop to use bathrooms and have a snack. This time of the year mother gray whales come to Magdalena Bay to give birth so we are excited about the possibility of getting to see the babies. UnCruise only does this excursion during the birthing season. When we got to the bay we got into a panga boat with a local captain that took us out in search of the whales. The bay is pretty well protected so you can see why the momma whales like it. After just a few minutes we saw a spout and headed right towards it. Did you know that the spout from a Gray Whale is heart shaped? I didn't know that but I did get to see up close that it is true. We ended up getting to see quite a few whales and could tell some where pairs of mother and baby by how close they were together. We thought that at least one was having fun playing with us as she would spy-hop (vertically pokes its head out of the water). Then there was a pair that seemed to just be relaxing and would come up to float for a bit. It was a great 2 hours out on the water. After our whale watch adventure was over it was time for lunch at a local seafood restaurant. They served us a huge plate of food with shrimp, lobster, fish, rice, and salads. Then it was time to head back to Sea of Cortes side so that was nap time in the vans. We got back to port and boarded the ship for happy hour. Captain Shep came down to let us know that once we were out of “the waiting room” that we would be hitting a little bit of rough water so he was waiting until after dinner was over to leave port. We have been on many cruises with rough weather so we were not too worried. Turns out that to us it just seemed like some gentle waves which were nice to lull you to sleep. Since we were up so early I was ready for bed by 8 pm! Our brief time with wi-fi seemed to be coming to an end so we are guessing we not get wifi again until we return to LaPaz.
Day 5 – Bahia of San Francisco
This morning we woke up find us anchored out by a lovely crescent moon shaped beach. It was a bit windy but we had signed up for the morning hike. We grabbed some breakfast and then headed to the aft to board our skiff to shore. It was a really nice hike to a ridge that ran along most of the island so we got a lot of amazing views. Then we walked down in another spot where we were able to walk over and check out the salt flat. Our guide, Jenny, explained to us how the locals harvest the salt to use for the fish they catch and then they can trade. It was then back to the boat for lunch. After lunch the crew had set up a beach party back on shore for us so we were able to go back over and snorkel, kayak, paddle board and just enjoy the beach. We had fun exploring the beach but it was a bit too chilly for getting in the water. Tonight's Happy Hour was a little different since we had already signed up for Friday's adventures the day before. I guess they really needed to get an idea how many boats they would need for going over to the sea lions so they asked us to decide on that one early. Jess gave plenty of fair warnings about how the swimming with the sea lions might not be easy so they wanted to set the right expectations before anyone signed up. I was doing it no matter what. I figured that if even what she was saying was worst case scenario I could handle that. All of our desserts each day have been delicious but tonight's wasn't only delicious it was like a piece of art. Chase our server told us dessert was apple strudel but it was going to be a bit different than what we are used to. When it came out I think everyone ohhhed and ahhhed and of course took photos. It was almost too perfect to eat but it really did taste as good at it looked!
Day 2 - Bahia Agua Verde
Woke up this morning and made it to the 7 am stretch and WOW! The cove we are in today is just gorgeous! The weather also looked like it was going to cooperate both with sun and no wind. On the way to breakfast we saw that we had the morning Kayak and afternoon Burro which we knew was perfect since it is usually best to get out on the kayaks while there isn't any wind. We know from experience that wind tends to kick up more as the day goes on. After breakfast it was out to the aft deck to board the skiff to the beach. Our ship is stocked with kayaks and has a platform they use to launch kayaks in other locations but here in Baja they prefer to launch from the beach. The crew had already taken the kayaks over and had them ready on the beach for us. We grabbed our paddles and headed out. Our adventure guide for this one was Mike and he was also very excited about the lovely weather we had. We paddled around the coast and even out a rock formation a few hundred feet from the coast. Mike told us that the water all around that rock formation was very deep so many birds went there to fish and live on the rocks. The water close to the coast was very clear so that we could see things like fish, starfish, and other things on the bottom while kayaking. It was a great morning adventure and we all worked up a hunger for lunch. Back to the ship with a little time to shower and head to lunch. It was another great meal which was topped off by the most adorable and equally delicious dessert! Our pastry chef made macrons shaped like a cactus and filled with a sort of Mexican eggnog cream. All I could say was OH MY GOD!
After lunch it was time to head out for our Burro ride. The Romero family brings the burros over to the island every week just for UnCruise. Julio, the head of the family, takes a look at each guest and then pairs you with the right Burro for you. I guess he could tell I like to go fast because I got the Burro that wanted to pass everyone was we went up the first steep hill. The path was pretty narrow and he liked passing on the outside so I just tried to trust he knew what he was doing and wouldn't step too close to the edge. It was about an hour ride and we went over rocks and sand, up and down hills, and even through an oasis which was full of palm trees and freshwater. The family that brings the burros also had a little shop set up on the beach with some things they have made that were for sale. I always enjoy being able to buy something that was made by the locals when we travel so I picked up a pair of earrings and a necklace.
Since the weather was so nice we had the option to hang out on the beach a bit longer and could take out kayaks or paddleboard or head back to the ship. We chose to hang out for awhile. The crew brought over towels, chairs, snacks, and drinks as well so it was a great beach day! After enjoying the beach it was time to head back for Happy Hour and pick tomorrow's activities. We also also got a special treat and Julio joined us for happy hour and entertained us with a few songs. They were all in Spanish so I could only pick up a few parts but they all sounded like very sad songs to me. We enjoyed another very delicious meal but the chef which of course included another amazing dessert from Katie our pastry chef. For anyone that knows me or has traveled with me you will know I am a picky eater so I was a little worried about meals on a small ship. Even though there have only been 3 choices for lunch or dinner so far I have found something each time and you can also sort of customize the options if there is something you don't like. Being that we are on the sea I hve been opting for the fish most nights and they have been delicious!
Day 3 - Puerto Escondido
We were supposed to have adventures in the morning but due to wind they were cancelled so we instead went out whale watching and switched onshore adventures to the afternoon. We lucked out and quickly spotted a spout and Captain headed that way. After carefully watching and waiting it was identified as a Blue Whale, which is one of the biggest whales. We would watch the spout come up and then wait to see if the whale appeared too and most times the whale took a few breaths and then you would see the fluke (tail) as the whale dove and then wait 8 - 10 minutes to search for where he would come back up. While keeping track of the Blue Whale a pod of dolphins came over to play with us. They were bow riding and also playing in our wake. They really seem like kids that were swimming around and even showing off a little. It was so fun to watch them.
After some whale and dolphin watching it was time for lunch and while having lunch we pulled into the first actual dock we have seen since leaving La Paz. We are in Puerto Escondido which is a well protected harbor with mountains almost all around so it is also given the name The Waiting Room since many boats will wait out storms here. There were a few adventure options available today - a strenuous hike, snorkeling, a skiff ride, or you could just walk around the marina we were docked in. We opted for the skiff but it was windy and cloudy so a bit cold out on the water but we still saw some interesting things. We were happy to not do much this afternoon anyway since this was the first time since boarding that we were able to pick up a wi-fi signal. My travels are work for me so I really don't mind staying in touch while I travel but I hadn't been expecting to be without wi-fi so much on this trip. I used this time to check on emails and make sure all my clients were OK. Tomorrow we are headed to the Gray Whale Sanctuary which is one of the main reasons I chose this cruise at this time of year. The momma Gray whales come to this special bay to have their babies each year in late January and stay through early March.
*I was planning to post these reports live as we cruised however we didn't have internet at all most days so I ended up writing them as we went but waited to post when we got back home again.
I am so excited so be getting ready to start our UnCruise Adventure in the Sea of Cortez! When I first heard about this cruise I knew right then I just had to do it! I remember the first time I went to Sea World, when I was 8, I was totally in love and thought I wanted to be a Marine Biologist when I grow up. Well that didn't happen but I do still love dolphins and whales and getting to spot them up close whenever possible. Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez the world's aquarium so I cannot think of a better place to get to see many of them on one trip.
UnCruise has small boats that get you so close to everything. They also include all your adventures while cruising such as snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, and more! We landed in Los Cabos to meet up with UnCruise and get our bus over to the ship, Safari Endeavor, which was in LaPaz. We were taken right to the boat, literally our bus drove us right to the gangway. I was so impressed that the Captain was out on the pier introducing himself as we walked up the gangway. There were only 58 of us boarding so we were off the buses and to our rooms in no time. We met a few more of the crew and one of the adventure guides, Sarah, took us to our room and pointed out a few things and let us know we needed to head down to the lounge for the safety briefing. Our room is small but functional. It has all you need beds, a desk, closest, drawers, and a bathroom with shower. The beds are not our favorite since they are fixed twins against the walls so you cannot combine them make a queen but that is OK. We have 2 large windows and our room door opens right out on the deck. There are only 4 decks and just 42 rooms onboard. Crew to Guest ratio is 2.5 to 1 which is super!
We went down to the lounge where Captain Shep talked a bit and introduced some of the other crew. We then did the usual safety drill where you find your muster station and all the fun stuff. After that it was time for dinner and then time for the ship to pull out of port.
Day 1 - Puerto Los Gatos
I started our first day with the 7 am stretch. If you know me you know I am not a morning person, except for maybe when I am on vacation. It really was wonderful to start the day with a stretch on the top deck before heading to 7:30 breakfast (yes breakfast is 7:30 everyday). At breakfast we learned that each morning we will place our order for lunch and dinner as this allows the chef to prepare and not waste a lot. After breakfast we headed to the lounge where we would learn more about the day's adventures. Everyday has multiple included adventures to choose from. Some days we will be able to choose 2 and some days just one. For our first day we could just choose one since the morning was being used to learn about everything and collect our gear. Jessica our Adventure Coordinator started going over all the options but in the middle of that a pod of pilot whales was spotted nearby. One of the best things about UnCruise is nature is a focus so we stopped what we were doing and went out on the bow to check out the whales. Mike, one of the adventure guides, said they haven't seen the pilot whales here in 5 years so this was a pretty amazing sight. It was a pretty good size pod and Mike explained that what we were seeing was called logging and it is when the whales are pretty much hungover from eating a lot of squid the night before and are floating along in a sort of sleep mode. They were all very close to each other and would be up on the surface for a bit and they go back under. It was so cool to be close enough to hear their breaths. The captain will change course and slow down for things like this. After watching them for about an hour we moved back inside to get back to the stuff we needed to do. We heard about all the options for today and had to pick one. The options were - snorkeling 101 (for those that might need a refresher or like me never snorkeled in a wetsuit), snorkeling 201 for experienced snorkelers, a leisurely walk, a rigorous hike, or a skiff ride. Since I haven't snorkeled in a long time or ever in a wetsuit I chose snorkel 101 which would be entering the water from a beach vs from a small boat like the 201. After everyone put in their adventure order it was time to go over some of the procedures and collect our gear. Some of the procedures are for getting on and off our ship along with getting on and off the small boats that are used to get us to shore. While in the middle of the procedures talk a call from the bridge alerted us to whale sighting so again we stopped and all went out to check it out. This time it was a single whale and it took a little time for the experts to identify it but while trying to figure it out we realized it wasn't just one but 2 and it appeared to be a mom and calf. They were not giving us much time to really see a lot of them so it took a bit but they were identified as Sei Whales. While watching them a few playful dolphins came over to check out our boat and ride our waves. We hung out for a bit watching them but then back to getting ready for our upcoming adventures. We got back to the procedures and learned about the very low tech method of tracking who is on and off the ship - there is a magnetic board with all the room numbers and a circle magnet for each guest that as you are getting off you slide your circle to off and then back on when you come back. Low tech and laid back is pretty much the theme for UnCruise. There is no wi-fi on the ship (I know crazy right but we are hoping our portable hotspot will pick up a signal). You do not have or need a key for your stateroom door because it does not auto lock so you can only lock them from inside. At first I thought that seemed odd but I am already liking not having to worry about a key. With such a small boat you get to know everyone pretty fast so nothing to worry about. Plus even if someone did take something it is not like they can go far. Since pretty much everything onboard is included no need to worry about a room key to charge things to either. They even provide things like sunblock, binoculars, and reusable water bottles! Everything is very causal almost like cruising with family. No need to dress up for dinner either.
After going over all the procedures it was time to pick up all our gear for the week. We picked up our wetsuit and snorkel equipment, all of these are included for use during your cruise along with other things like walking sticks. I had done a little research after finding out we would be given wetsuits to use to find out what people wear under wetsuits since I knew I wasn't going commando in a borrowed suit. I was glad I did because I found out that many people prefer another layer underneath in cold water. I knew I would be cold no matter what so I got a full body suit for under my wetsuit along with fin socks to keep my feet warm. After getting our equipment it was time for lunch and then after we head out for our first adventure. I don't usually eat a big lunch but it was so good and I can already tell I love the pastry chef!
We suited up and headed to the aft to board a skiff to the beach for our snorkel 101. It was a bit cloudy and breezy but that wasn't stopping us. We gathered on the beach while our adventure guide Jenny went over the basics. It was sort of like a bit of torture though as first she made us all get into the water without fins or mask just to get the feel of the wetsuit. She also wanted to prove that you cannot sink when wearing a wetsuit which I did not know until I tried it. Ok so it wasn't just me that thought the water was cold - the water temp was only 64 degrees and the air only 74 but hey that is why we had wetsuits to begin with. So after getting all wet we had to get back out of the water to get our masks on and test those. So back into the water test the masks and snorkel to then get back out to get the fins. Once we got the fins our outfit was complete and we were ready to snorkel! It was cold and I realized I wished I had bought swim gloves and maybe even a hoodie since my ears were getting very cold. I wasn't giving up that fast though I powered through and really enjoyed snorkeling more than I ever did when I tried before so I think the wetsuit is key. Just being able to float was so nice. After about a half hour though most of us were ready to be done. We wrapped up in towels the crew brought over and then walked around the beach a bit to explore the very interesting red rock formations on the beach. We then headed back to the boat took off our wetsuits and hung them up on the aft deck. The 2 hot tubs right there on the aft deck were perfect for warming up after our adventure (again another reason to not go commando under the wetsuit since I could take mine off right there on deck and jump right into the hot tub).
Before we knew it it was time to head back to the lounge to talk about the next day's adventures. Each night before dinner everyone gathers in the lounge for happy hour and also to choose our adventures for the next day. Jessica went over all the options and this was going to be one of those days where we get to pick 2. The choices were Kayak 101, Kayak 201, Burro ride, Boulder Bash (extreme hike), or skiff. We chose Kayak 201 and Burro ride. After everyone put in their order Jessica takes those and works them into a schedule that gets posted on the wall in the main hall the next morning. So on your way to breakfast you can check to see what times you are doing each thing. Again nice and low tech just a print out paper where you look for your name on the list under each time slot. Also on that board is a laminated map of the area where our route so far is highlighted in marker as we go (since the route can and probably will vary there isn't an itinerary already mapped out). This board is also where things that we have seen will get posted so photos of the whales and other wildlife are starting to appear here. I am sure it will be totally full by the end of the cruise.
We had dinner and crazy enough were pretty much ready for bed before 9 pm! Adventuring takes a lot out of you! I am looking forward to another 7 am morning stretch so happy to go to bed early.
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.
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.
I have been specializing in Disney vacations now for 18 years. There is a lot that goes into planning a Disney vacation and I really like to help in any way since I know it is a big expense for most families. The cost is one of the biggest factors and over the years I have learned a few ways to help with that. I know you have all probably seen many articles about how to save money while you are in Disney like eating breakfast in the room or bringing your own snacks into the parks. I have 3 easy tips to save money before you leave home and they don't require you to cut back on anything you want to do in order to save.
The #1 tip I have is to use a travel agent that specializes in Disney. I know I am very bias on this one but I am not just saying you should use me (even though I do think you should) but using any travel agent that knows Disney can help you save money up-front because we know all the offers and stay on top of that for you and will apply any savings possible for you. If you call Disney and book with them they will happily take your money but they are not going to call you a few months later and say hey guess what we are now offering a discount and we applied it for you. A good Disney travel agent will do that! A good Disney travel agent will also be honest and help you figure what you really do need and what you would be wasting money on.
#2 - Choose a credit card with nice perks. You might need to start this tip well before planning your vacation to give you enough time to rack up some rewards but they can be well worth it. If you choose a good reward credit card you can rack some rewards that can help you take money off your vacation cost. A good airline one might make it so you can fly free. Disney also has a card that gives you rewards and you can use those rewards to pay towards your vacation or save them to use while on vacation. A Disney Visa also gives you no interest on Disney vacation package reservations for 6 months so that could also save you some money and give you more time to pay.
#3 - Disney Gift cards. This is sort of linked with #2 in that you can save money buying Disney gift cards if you have certain credit cards, such as a Target Visa. You can save 5% when you use your Target Visa to buy Disney gift cards at Target so that can add up. Warehouse stores like BJs and Sam's also offer discounts on Disney gift cards. I have had many clients send me multiple gift cards to make payments on their vacations. I even had one once that paid her whole Disney Cruise using gift cards (that 5% on over $5000 does add up). Going back to #1 a good Disney agent will be happy to take as many gift cards as you need to use for making payments.
I know there are many other ways you can do things to save on Disney vacations but I think these 3 are the easiest to get what you really want and save a little too.
You might be asking - what does Shoulder Season mean? Most travel destinations will have a Peak Season and an Off Season but there will also be a bit of in between time which is the Shoulder Season. Most popular travel destinations will have some sort of shoulder season. In some places where year round travel is pretty popular, like here in Central Florida for example, we don't have much of an off season or shoulder season.
Cruising in Alaska has such a short Season in total that it offer a great example of Shoulder Season. Cruise ships can only sail Alaska in May - September (maybe very late April and into very early October but not much). The Peak Season is Mid-June through Mid-August so that leaves May and September as the Shoulder Season. The rest of the year is totally Off Season since the ships cannot even go there if they wanted to. There is some good and bad to choosing shoulder season anywhere.
There are 2 good reasons to cruise Alaska during Shoulder Season -
#1 - Lower Prices - since it isn't the most popular time the rates are lower to try and entice more visitors.
#2 - Smaller Crowds - Most people either only want to or can only travel during the dates of the Peak Season so there are more crowds at that time leaving smaller crowds in the Shoulder Season.
There are also 2 not so good reason to choose Shoulder Season -
#1 - Not everything will be open or available. For example Denali National Park won't open until Mid June so if you want to go there you need to pretty much stick to Peak Season. Another thing to consider is snow melting over summer will cause some excursions to not be offered in September.
#2 - There won't be as much wildlife. If you are really going to Alaska for the wildlife the best times for that is going to be Peak Season when the Salmon are running and the Bears are out of hibernation.
You might think that weather would be a reason to choose peak season but in Alaska the weather can be all over the map at anytime of the cruise season. You should be prepared for rain anytime you cruise Alaska. It is possible that May and September will be colder than June - August but it might not be. There is a slight chance you could catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights during shoulder season but you shouldn't plan your trip around that since it isn't very likely.
I have cruised Alaska twice - once in May and just this year the end of August so my dates have been shoulder season. The photo I posted above shows one of the big differences in May and August since you see a lot less snow in the August photo. As pretty as the snow was in May we almost didn't get close to the glacier because there were still a lot of big ice chunks and frozen water in that area. I enjoyed both times of year and I think the smaller crowds of shoulder season were nice too but I would still like to try peak season too.
Alaska really is an amazing wilderness and one that everyone should have on their must see list. An Alaska cruise is not your typical cruise though. There are certain things that are worth the splurge when it comes to an Alaska Cruise.
#1 Your room - This is one of those times when splurging for a balcony is really worth it. There will be a lot to see outside and it is nice to be able to watch some of it from the comfort of your room.
#2 The excursions. On some cruises you can get away with just exploring town or finding a beach to relax on but in Alaska the excursions are really worth the splurge. There are many that can be a bit pricey so it is good to budget for those in advance. I have done a few that were big splurges and they were all worth every penny. On this visit I went big with the Helicopter to a glacier to go dog sledding. It was truly amazing! There were only a total of 4 adults on our excursion so it felt very private and we got a lot of time on the glacier with the dogs. This is something you really cannot do anywhere else so it one of those once in a lifetime moments you won't soon forget. The other big splurge we did last time in Alaska was a flight-seeing ride on a float-plane. Alaska is really best seen by air and you can only get to some places via a plane. Our float-plane flew around some fjords and even landed on a lake so we could pop out of plane for a bit. Again there were only 4 people total in our plane so it was pretty much a private excursion. If you are into fishing then Alaska is one of those places you must book a fishing excursion. You can even have the chef back onboard cook up your catch for your for dinner! You can also ship your big catch home if you prefer.
#3 Private viewing areas. Find out if you ship offers any private areas that you can reserve for your time in Glacier Bay or whichever glacier you might visit on your cruise. The top decks can get very crowded on the glacier day so if you ship offers a private area you can reserve a spot it is worth the cost. For our cruise Princess offers the Sanctuary up on the top deck in the very aft of the ship. This area is available to reserve anytime during the cruise for a small fee but on glacier day it really it a great place to be. The lounge chairs are super comfy with extra blankets and attentive service. You do get to actually reserve a specific chair so you can come and go and not worry about losing your spot. For our cruise they served pastries, lunch, and tea during our time in Glacier Bay. They would also bring hot chocolate, coffee and tea or water anytime you needed more. With the limited number of guests in the Sanctuary it was very easy to get all the perfect photos you wanted while viewing the glaciers.
#4 The right wardrobe. Packing for Alaska can be tricky as you really do need a little bit of everything since you just never know what kind of weather you might get. Generally in summer you can pretty much count on rain though. Having the right gear can really help make sure you get the most out of your vacation. Depending on where you live you might not get a lot of regular use out of some of these things but they are worth the splurge to have for Alaska. Number one would be a nice pair of waterproof hiking type shoes. It is no fun to be walking around in wet shoes with cold feet. Another item that you might not normally purchase would be some water resistant clothing. I bought a pair of water resistant hiking pants from Columbia that worked out really well for the wet days. A good rain jacket is also much easier than carrying an umbrella. One tip though when it comes to certain excursions be sure to note if they will provide some gear. We did a few excursions that did give us boots or other outerwear to keep us protected on the excursion so that was a nice bonus.
#5 Camera - Alaska has a lot of wildlife to catch a glimpse of and if you want to really capture that image your cell phone camera just isn't going to cut it. This is one of those trips when having a nicer camera is worth it. Binoculars also come in handy so they are worth picking up a pair before your cruise.
#6 - The spa. With all the excursions and outdoor activities to choose from in Alaska a spa treatment might be just the splurge you need to recover and also warm up. Some ship spas will also offer a thermal spa and I cannot think of anywhere better to warm up than a heated lounge chair inside the relaxing atmosphere of the spa. Some ships will have the thermal spa set up where you can even have an amazing view of the outside while lounging. You might be able to get just a day passes but many times only length of cruise passes are offered. There are even some ships that have specific stateroom categories that will come with spa access included with the room.
I just finished my first cruisetour in Alaska and we are headed for the ship. You might ask what is a cruisetour? It is basically a land and sea package where you get to go a bit more in depth somewhere that a cruise ship couldn't go added onto your cruise. You can choose to do your tour portion either before or after your cruise but for Alaska I recommend doing it before. The tour portion in Alaska is busy and has lots of early mornings so doing the cruise after allows you to relax and recover. Most times you will have a few different package options for your Alaska cruisetour to include other things but all will include your cruise and land accommodations along with transportation to your cruisetour hotels. The big difference between the cruise and the tour is that your land portion doesn't come with food included like the cruise so you would need to choose an add on package if you want meals included on land. Here are 7 tips I learned from my Alaska cruisetour.
#1 Pack strategically. This really is key since you need to pack a little bit of everything for a visit to Alaska. It really is worth it to not have suitcases that are packed too tightly from the beginning since you will be having unpack and pack a few times. We ended up with 3 checked suitcases for the 2 of us (2 large and one smaller one) even though I probably could have gotten it all into just 2. I was very happy I chose to bring 3 as it made things easier for me. Princess does offer an option to send any bag you won't need on land right to the port so it will meet you on the ship instead of having to go to each lodge with you. That just didn't work for me but that was OK since having the 3 bags did help when we were juggling things from lodge to lodge. You most likely will only spend 1 or 2 nights at each lodge so it means a lot of living out of suitcases.
#2 Pre-plan your outfits for each day. This comes in handy when you have to have your bags out of your room at the crack of dawn. I recommend using some packing cubes or something that will help you keep your suitcases organized and easy to pull out a day's set of clothes the night before. In Alaska dressing in layers is key so make sure each day's clothes have you ready for any type weather no matter what the forecast might be predicting.
#3 Have a day bag plan. On the days you change lodges you might be on a long bus or train ride between lodges. You might also be doing a tour or excursion on the way between lodges so you will want to have a day bag with you with a few essentials. It is also good to keep anything with you that you really couldn't afford to lose or would need before getting to your next room, such as prescriptions or your travel documents. Be sure to read over your travel documents beforehand as there might be restrictions on the day bag you can carry on with you, for example the train between Denali and Anchorage has pretty strict rule of no wheelie bags can be carried on the train with you. There are specific size limits for the bag you can take on the train as it needs to fit in a tight space by your seat.
#4 Be Organized. Having packing cubes or some type of smaller bags or specific spots in your suitcase for things makes it easier to find things quickly. This also helps to be sure everything gets packed again each time you change lodges. The early morning bag pick ups can be hectic so being organized really helps.
#5 Read and reread the schedule for each day in advance. There will be lots of important times to remember each day so you don't want to miss the bag pick up or worse your bus. The morning we went into Denali park was a very early bus pick up and they stick to schedule so it would be a bummer to miss that bus.
#6 There are no guarantees. In Alaska this applies to a few things. Remember this is wilderness so there are some things no one can control. Number one is there are no guarantees that you will get to see a clear view of Mt Denali. It is said that usually only 30% of visitors get a clear view of the whole mountain just because it is so high that is pretty much has it own weather and will usually be hidden behind clouds. We realized how lucky we were to get a clear view more than one day of our trip. The second thing that people complain about is not getting to see all of the wildlife they wanted to see. Again nature doesn't always cooperate so you just might not get that shot of a grizzly or moose or whatever animal you were hoping to see during your Alaska visit. You should already be prepared for just about any weather as that is just a given with Alaska but weather can also affect other things like your mode of transportation. This is a little more unusual but happened during our trip that weather caused the train tracks to be impassable in spots due to rock slides and trees down so our scenic train ride from one lodge to the next was cancelled and we had to take the bus. I was really looking forward to the train experience and I know for most people that is a big part of what they want as part of their Alaska land portion. Hopefully you will get to see and do everything you really wanted to on your visit but if you don't there is always next time.
#7 Get enough sleep and drink plenty of water. There is a lot to do on your tour so getting a good amount of sleep and staying hydrated is important to being able to really enjoy everything. Alaska is 4 hours behind our East Coast time zone and along with the longer hours of daylight this far north it was easy to stay up way later than you intended and that 6 am bags out time sneaks up on you real quick. It is also very dry in parts of Alaska so be sure to drink enough water.
Did you know all of that about Alaska? I was amazed by how big Alaska really is when you see it laid on top of the rest of the US! That trivia doesn't even mention things like how big Glacier Bay National Park is (3.3 million acres by the way). Glacier Bay is just a small part of the 25 million acre World Heritage site (one of the world's largest international protected areas).
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