The Benefits of a Travel Agent in Post-Pandemic Times


[Updated 6/27/2020] If you experienced a recent COVID-related cancellation during the 2020 pandemic, you might be cursing the cruise lines, airlines, or resorts out of an abundance of frustration in obtaining refunds or credits. If you booked your own trip, unfortunately you’re on your own. Now imagine if you had booked with a travel professional. He or she would have expertly borne the frustration and aggravation of dealing with the travel providers so you wouldn’t have to. Travel agents may have more effective contacts and avenues at their disposal, making refunds more timely and with less hassle.

As a cruise specialist, one of the questions I hear most is “why should I book with a travel agent, when I can simply book directly on the web with the cruise line?”  Great question.  Purchasing a cruise should be a personal experience.  All cruises are not alike, and the best cruise experience is one where the cruise ship and itinerary are matched to the client with his or her personality and interests in mind.  So while booking directly on the cruise line’s website may appear to be an easy process, do you really have all the facts to make an informed decision to book that cruise?  When it’s safe to cruise again, you’ll want to know about health and safety precautions, the safer travel destinations, and the best ways to get there. Following are ten compelling reasons why you should book with an experienced travel agent. Note, these recommendations are directed to cruise travelers, but can be applied in any travel situation.

1.  You’re a first-time cruiser.  You have always wanted to take a cruise, but simply don’t know where to begin.  You’re befuddled by the all the choices:  small ship, big ship, inside cabin, outside cabin, early dining, late dining, anytime dining and all the other variables that make up a cruise vacation.  No wonder you’re in a tizzy.   An agent that specializes specifically in ocean and river cruising will help you sort through a sea of options and find the best ones that work for you.

2.  Your time is precious.  Who wants to spend hours sorting through the hundreds of cruise ship and itinerary options?  An experienced agent will be happy to do the work for you – it’s what they love to do.

3.  Complete door-to-door service.   Do you need a ride to or from the ship?  Air transportation?  A hotel the night before or after your cruise?  A shore tour?  The cruise line will be more than happy to book these as part of a complete package, but your choices will be quite limited to whomever the cruise line contracts with.   A cruise agent, on the other hand, has connections to many taxi companies, local tour guides, discount hotels and other resources that can save you money or provide service in line with your particular style.

4.  Reliable Pricing.  Have you ever logged on to a web-only cruise site to research pricing on a particular cruise?  You’ll see one price listed, one for each cabin category.  You say to yourself, great – I think I’ll book.  However, in many cases that’s not the only price; there may be other promotion codes, as well, allowing for different rates for the same cabin.  A knowledgeable agent will let you know whether any price discounting is available resulting from any special promotions, group pricing, or whether you might qualify for a past passenger rate, a military rate or other discount and/or added amenity.

5.  Unbiased information.  An independent agent is working for you, not a particular travel supplier or cruise line.  While you are welcomed to take advantage of all the services the cruise line will offer as part of a cruise package, the agent will help you find other alternatives if the cruise choices are not to your liking or you simply want to find ways to save money on your vacation.

6.  Added amenities and reduced group pricing.  Cruise agencies will typically reserve groups of cabins and sell them to their clients at a reduced group-only rate and include other amenities such as onboard credit, a bottle of wine, free excursion, or any number of other gifts.

7.  Personalized Service.  Have you ever been frustrated with the 800-number large web-based agencies, waiting on hold, unreturned phone calls, or misinformation? During the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly, many travelers have complained that calls to their OTA’s (online travel agency) for help have gone unanswered. With inexperienced order takers in their call centers, OTAs simply don’t have the means to handle this volume of request, let alone in a professional and knowledgeable manner. In some cases, the representative you are dealing with has never stepped foot on a cruise ship and is just relating information from the cruise line’s website. A good, reliable agent will never leave you hanging, always return calls and emails promptly, and pass along information from both the cruise line and the agent’s own personal experience.  A good agent knows what you are looking for in a cruise vacation and will make it happen in a friendly and professional way. Most importantly, a qualified agent will be there to help you when you most need it.

8.  Support Small Business.  With thousands of agencies out there beckoning for your business – brick & mortar and on-line agencies alike – competition is fierce.  Small, independent agencies – in business for years, with a loyal clientele – need to work hard to retain their place in the world of cruise selling.  These mom & pop agents have access to the same resources as the big web agencies as well as personal experience and unmatched service you won’t find anywhere else.  The next time you call 1-800 Big Cruise Outfit, keep in mind that you may be taking business away from the guy around the corner trying to feed a family.

9.  We Have Your Back.  If any problems should arise before or during your vacation, a good agent will advocate on your behalf to get the answers and results you’re looking for. Like during a pandemic or other world event having a broad effect on travel.

10.  Transfer your direct-with-cruise-line booking to a travel agent.  Did you know that if you find an agent you really like but have already booked direct with the cruise line, that you can transfer that booking to the agent?  Simply let the agent know, and he or she will take care of the whole process.  You’re cruise stays exactly the same, you will receive great service and bonus amenities, the agent will get a commission, and everyone wins!

At the time of this writing, ship operations are paused, but when they sail again – and they will – you’ll want to be ready. A travel advisor is one of the best tools you can use in a post-pandemic vacation world.

What to Expect on Your First Cruise

imageAre you embarking on your first journey at sea? Or maybe you need a refresher? Here are a few tips to make your cruise a smooth one.

Flights. If you aren’t cruising from a port close to home, you’ll need to fly to the port of departure. If possible, arrive at least a day early to allow for any delays or flight cancellations. If your schedule doesn’t allow it, then you should book the first flight of embarkation day, preferably non-stop. Consider booking your same-day flight directly with the cruise line, where they will help you get to the ship (or to the next port) should you be late. Your agent will be happy to arrange flights and pre-cruise hotel stay. If booking your own flights, be sure to book afternoon flights at the end of the cruise to allow time to get off the ship, travel to the airport, and the process of getting through security. Check with your cruise line for recommended flight times for your itinerary.

Pre-Book Shore Excursions, Onboard Shows, Restaurants, and More. While not required, if you have your heart is set on a specific shore excursion, a special meal at a specialty restaurant, or a gotta-have spa treatment, consider reserving it in advance on line. In fact, on some ships, the big production shows may be reservation only, and by booking ahead, you’ll guaranty yourself a seat. You may even save money on some activities and entertainment by pre-booking rather than waiting until you’re on board. Wifi minutes, in particular, are generally less expensive to buy in advance than on board. Your agent can help with any advance reservations.

Special Occasion Celebration. Tell your agent if you are celebrating an anniversary, birthday, graduation or other occasion. You may find a special gift or greeting card in your stateroom from the captain, as well as a cake at dinner presented by some enthusiastic waiters.

Cruise Documents. Be sure to complete on-line check-in at the cruise line’s website at least a week before sailing. Print your boarding passes, including luggage tags, and bring them with you to the port with your passport/ID required to board. By doing this in advance, you’ll save time at the pier and begin your vacation that much sooner. Your luggage tags can be attached to your bags prior to leaving for the cruise port. Your agent will be glad to help with your cruise documents. Just ask!

Do You Need a Passport? A passport is highly recommended and the preferred ID for all travel. However, for U.S. citizens on “closed-loop” cruises (cruises sailing to and from the same U.S. port to destinations in the western hemisphere, a state or city birth certificate with raised seal AND government ID (driver’s license, etc.) are acceptable. Remember, though, that in an  emergency situation, where it would become necessary to fly home, a passport would be required, which is why a passport is always better. Non-U.S. citizens should consult their government officials for necessary travel documents. It is the traveler’s responsibility to obtain the necessary documents to travel. For current information on applying for or renewing a passport, please visit the U.S. Department of State, Passport site.

Note: Beginning October 1, 2020, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another acceptable form of ID  (i.e. a U.S. valid passport) to fly within the United States.

Check for the star. REAL ID-compliant cards are marked with a star at the top of the card. If you’re not sure, contact your state driver’s license agency on how to obtain a REAL ID compliant card.

Getting to the pier. Transfers are available for purchase from the cruise line to get you between the ship and the airport. Depending on the port’s distance from the airport, it may be quicker and cheaper to take a taxi, Uber or Lyft. Your travel agent can help with independent private and shared transfers, as well. Whether you are driving and parking at the pier, or choosing a transfer, porters will be there to take your luggage and see that it arrives safely to your cabin.

Port Check In/Registration Process. Your taxi or transfer will drop you off at the port – be sure to have your passport and boarding pass ready. Crew members will take your luggage, store it on carts, where it will be delivered later to your cabin. You’ll next be directed to security where, much like an airport, bags will be scanned and you will be directed through a metal detector. Note: if you have any orthopedic hardware (knee/hip replacement) pacemaker, or other metal implant, be sure to tell the agent. They will either have you go through a body scanner or direct you through the metal detector for any further body search necessary.

You’ll next be given a health form to complete. This form asks if you’ve been ill in the recent past. At this point, you’ll either be directed to a waiting area or directly to the line for registration, where an agent will take your health form, boarding pass, review your passport, take your photo, and issue you your room key (sign and sail pass).

Note: Cruise lines are gradually introducing electronic methods and pre-screening in an effort to streamline the boarding process (i.e. Princess Medallion, etc.). Read your cruise line FAQ to learn how you will register and board the ship.

Lastly, before you actually board, you will be greeted by the photographer, who will ask you and your guest(s) to pose for a fun embarkation photo. This is your first brush with the ship paparazzi, whom you will see throughout your cruise. There is no obligation to have your picture snapped every time and no obligation to purchase any photos, but if you do, photos can be found in the on-board photo studio.

Carry-on Bag. Your luggage may not arrive to your cabin until the end of the day, so it’s a good idea to carry on things you’ll need throughout your first day on board. Boarding passes, documents, passport, ID, cash, credit cards, phone, medications and anything of value must always be carried. Never pack these in your luggage. Other useful items are a swimsuit, a change of clothes, toiletries, sunscreen and camera.

Dress Code. Check with your cruise line for suggestions on what to wear on your cruise for your particular itinerary. Generally speaking, casual clothes are the norm at breakfast, lunch and around the ship. Swim attire is acceptable at the pools and spa, and you’ll need proper exercise wear for the fitness center. Evenings range from casual to smart casual. Most cruises feature a formal night one or two nights each cruise, but the definition of formal means different strokes for different folks. While you’ll still see an occasional tux on the guys and a long gown on the ladies, jacket and tie and cocktail dresses are more the norm. Even Holland America has downplayed their description of formal night, now calling it “Gala Night”. On Norwegian Cruise Line, they have done away altogether with formal nights, offering one optional dress up night. Most all cruise lines now offer alternative dining for those not wishing to dress up.

  • Alaska and Other Colder Climate Destinations: Weather in Alaska can change by the minute. I can’t stress enough … dress in layers! It may be freezing in the morning, but 60 degrees and sunny by lunch. Always bring a light-weight weather proof jacket along for rain and mist. Gloves, a hat and scarf come in handy when out on deck in the glaciers. Also, bring binoculars for spotting wildlife!
  • Tropical, Warm Climates: Don’t forget bug spray, sunscreen, sunglasses and light rain jacket for popup showers!

Beverages Brought on Board. Each cruise line has a policy in place as to what kinds and how much alcohol, soda or water guests are allowed to bring on board. If alcohol is allowed to be carried on, it’s usually limited to wine or champagne. Consult with the cruise line or your travel agent to learn what your cruise line will or will not allow. Always hand carry beverages on board, never in your checked luggage. In lieu of buying (or bringing) plastic water bottles, bring along a refillable water bottle. Your purse and the environment will thank you.

Laundry. Most cruise lines offer laundry and dry cleaning services for a price. Suite guests and guests with loyalty rewards may get these services for free; otherwise, expect to pay a hefty fee. Some even offer self-service laundry rooms, as well, with token- or coin-operated (or on luxury lines, free) washers and dryers (and vending machines that dispense small boxes of detergent). For safety reasons, irons are not allowed in staterooms.

Cabin Amenities. Most staterooms are equipped with standard 110-volt AC electrical outlets and hair dryers.  Newer ships are also including USB outlets. Either way, bring a travel size power adaptor – rated for cruise ship use –  equipped with USB plug-ins, too, since cabin outlets can be limited, and those laptops, iPhones and cameras will surely need charging. Most cruise lines include a mini-safe in every cabin, as well as a mini fridge. While almost all cruise staterooms have flat screen TVs with limited channel selections, some provide movies on demand, as well as a convenient way to check your account on board, view the ship’s view on the outdoor cam (especially nice if you’ve got an interior cabin), order room service, shore excursions, and listen to the day’s announcements.

Embarkation Day. Explore the Ship and Get Organized. Depending on the cruise line and the time you board, you might not be able to access your cabin right away. This would be a good time to grab lunch in the buffet or explore the ship and learn the lay of the land using the handy deck map you should have received when you boarded. If you didn’t prebook shore excursions, spa appointments or restaurant reservations, you might want to do this as soon as you board. Be forewarned that the buffet is a busy place on embarkation day. For a quiet, lighter lunch, look for alternatives – lido deck grill, sandwich cafe, etc. Princess, for instance, has a wonderful International Cafe in the ship’s Piazza with sandwiches, salads, quiche, and light fare which is far more peaceful.

Safety Drill. Cruise ship safety drills, or muster drills, are mandatory for crew and passengers, and should be taken seriously. Taking place just before sailaway, the drill provides life-saving information and steps needed in case of an emergency situation. Don’t think of skipping it, because crew members will take a head count. Most likely you won’t need to bring your lifejacket, but you will need to bring your key card/ID to the drill.

The Daily Newsletter. A newsletter will arrive in your cabin each evening containing all the need-to-know info you’ll need for the next day’s activities. In addition, many cruise lines, including Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Disney and Holland America have introduced onboard smartphone Apps that can be conveniently downloaded and accessed for free through the ship’s wifi.

Shore Excursions. A list of available shore excursions is typically available at least six months before your scheduled departure; some cruise lines make shore excursions available immediately upon booking, even if the sailing date is further out still. If so, you might want to book your top two to three (if not all of your) shore tour picks in advance (online or by phone) since many popular ones do sell out. Shore excursions can also be booked onboard through the ship’s shore excursion desk and, in some cases, via the cabin TV or cruise line App. As an alternative to ship excursions, your travel agent can recommend unique or private tours not offered by the cruise line. Please ask!

Cruise tours vs. going it on your own? The answer largely depends on the port city, and the preference of each passenger. If you want someone else to take care of transportation, meals and making sure you’re back on the ship in time, go with one of the cruise line’s organized tours. Others find they can save money by making plans directly with independent operators or prefer exploring on their own. Many people will plan a mix of cruise line excursions, private tours and independent wandering.

Keeping in Touch: Phone Service/WiFi. Most cruise ships are now cell phone friendly; however, satellite service at sea is expensive. Unless you need to make a call while at sea, set your phone in “airplane mode” to avoid any charges for phone or data services appearing on your phone bill when you return home. Check with your cell provider to find out what they offer in terms of discounted international calling, text and data roaming plans.

Cruise ships also offer wifi packages to purchase for those who can’t live without their laptops and mobile devices while traveling. You can log on in the ship’s internet cafe or your own device. Keep in mind that wifi service on board your ship will be much slower than you’re used to at home, specifically at peak times of day. For lengthy use, it’s best to wait until you’re in port and use free wifi in town or your international calling/data roaming plan you may have purchased from your carrier.

Want to completely disconnect while away? Just turn your phone off for the entire trip, lock it in your safe and take it out for emergency use only. Communicate with your travel mates by old-fashioned means – sticky notes on the door, room-to-room calling, and pre-arranged meeting places.

Money Matters. Cruise ships these days operate on cashless systems. The key card given to you at check in also serves as your onboard credit card. Even though your meals and onboard entertainment are included, you will most likely incur charges for alcoholic beverages, shore tours, gift shop purchases, spa services, casino specialty dining and other extra services. All of these purchases are made with your key card, charged to your onboard account, which, in turn, is tied to the credit card you provided at check in.

Cash and Currency. Credit cards are accepted most everywhere in port. However, it’s good to have some cash on hand for those times when a credit card just won’t due. Bring along a stack of $1 bills for tipping bag handlers, drivers, room service, etc. If you are visiting foreign ports, it’s a good idea to have a small amount of local currency for purchases from vendors who don’t take credit cards or for tipping local tour guides and taxis. Don’t forget some foreign public toilets, particularly in European destinations, have a “pay to pee” policy; be sure to have some Euro coins on hand for this purpose. While your cruise ship will most likely have currency exchange services, the exchange rate will be high. Therefore, it’s best to get foreign money from your local bank or obtain it from an ATM machine in port. Be sure to inform your credit card company of your travel plans to avoid any travel alerts being placed on your card, resulting in denials at the register.

In-Room Safe. Be sure to lock your wallet, cash, credit cards, passport and other important items in your cabin safe.

Medical Facilities. Shipboard medical services typically consist of a physician and nurse to take care of minor temporary illnesses and accidents for a fee. If you have a serious illness or injury, you will likely be sent to a land-based hospital and miss the rest of the cruise. Many commonly used medications are kept onboard and can be prescribed by the ship’s doctor. However, it’s generally cheaper to get over-the-counter medicines in port — or better yet, bring them with you from home. If you take prescription medicine, it’s a good idea to carry copies of your prescriptions with you in case your medicine gets lost or stolen.

Motion sickness. If you think you might be prone to seasickness, bring along a small supply of Bonine or similar motion sickness medication. It will be available on the ship, but will be far less expensive to have your own on hand. Other remedies to consider bringing are patches, Sea-Bands or Ginger.

Dining seat assignments. When you booked your cruise, you should have selected your preferred method of evening dining: either flexible/open seating (meaning you dine at whatever time and with whom you want) or more traditional assigned seating (meaning you have the same table, dining time and dinner mates for the duration of your sailing) in their main dining rooms. If you opted in for assigned seating, you’ll receive confirmation of your dining time either before you sail or on embarkation day; your table is usually assigned once onboard. If there are any problems, see the maitre d’ after boarding to request a change.

Open/Flexible dining. In most cases, you have the option of making reservations in advance – including on line reservations before sailing – or just showing up to the venue and waiting in line, like you would for any dining establishment at home.

Alternative dining options. Even if you have assigned seating, you don’t have to eat in the dining room every night. There are usually several other places to dine from pizza parlors to the ship’s buffet and specialty restaurants. And, of course, there’s always room service, which is free or low-fee on most ships. Be sure to tell your main dining room staff of your plans to eat elsewhere so they aren’t waiting for you.

Special dietary needs. Many special dietary requests can be accommodated; be sure to discuss them with your cruise line when booking; notification requirements can vary by cruise line from anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months prior to your departure. It’s a smart idea to follow up with the dining room maitre d’ on embarkation day to ensure there are no hiccups. Vegetarians generally don’t need to alert the cruise line in advance (vegans should); kosher meals can be provided on many lines, but will likely be pre-prepared.

Religious services. Some cruise lines have clergy onboard for significant holidays like Christmas, Easter, Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Some offer services at other times, too (like for weekly Sabbath or Sunday mass observances), usually when there is a clergy volunteer sailing onboard as a passenger. More of a rarity, lines like Holland America feature a member of the clergy onboard every sailing to lead weekly non-denominational services.

Special occasions. Celebrating an anniversary, a birthday or honeymoon? Tell your travel agent or the cruise line, and they will offer some options for special ways to commemorate the occasion. Special celebration or honeymoon packages can be pre-ordered for a fee. Many times, as long as the occasion is noted in the reservation system, you will receive a card from the Captain or other staff member. Bring it to the dining room, and the staff may present you with a small complimentary cake for dessert complete with singing waitstaff.

Tipping. Most mainstream cruise lines charge a per person/per day fee for tips (service charges). These are automatically added to your onboard account in one lump sum or daily increments. If you prefer, you can prepay them with your cruise far before sailing. If for some reason you are not satisfied with the service, some lines will allow you to adjust the amount or remove the auto gratuity at the reception desk. On many of the luxury lines, tips are already included in your cruise fare. Be sure you know what the tipping policy is for your cruise when you book so there are no surprises later.

Settling your account. On the last evening of the sailing, you’ll receive an itemized bill of all the charges incurred during your cruise. Be sure to check it over and if anything is inaccurate, resolve it at the service desk before you leave the ship. It’s easier to solve a problem while on board than when you get home. If the bill looks good, no don’t need to do anything. The amount will automatically be charged to the credit card on file. Be sure to keep a copy of the bill if there are any questions later when your credit card statement appears. Some cruise lines allow you to check your onboard account daily through the in-cabin interactive TV system to avoid surprises. Also new to many lines is a mobile app you can download to your mobile phone for checking the balance, as well as providing many other onboard features. It’s a good idea to check your account every so often to spot any problems early, avoiding gridlock at the desk the morning of departure.

Preparing to disembark. In most cases, you will need to pack your bags the final day of your cruise and place them outside your door before retiring for the evening. You will be given a disembarkation package which may include a government custom form and colored or numbered tags to attach to your bags. The bags are then collected by the crew and will be waiting for you in the baggage area of the terminal when you disembark. Important: Don’t pack anything you’ll need the next morning, including toiletries, clothing, outwear and footwear – you’ll need a change of clothes in the morning. Keep medication, passport, ID, customs form, and any other important documents in your hand baggage that you will carry off with you the next morning.

  • Note: You also have the option of “walk off” – don’t put your luggage out the night before debarkation. Just walk off in the morning, taking all your bags with you. This is good for people with early flights, those on short cruises with very little luggage, or able-bodied guests who just don’t want to deal with searching through a sea of bags the next morning.

Morning of Disembarkation. First, if you’re not in a rush and don’t have an early flight to get to, enjoy a leisurely breakfast. The specific process of departing the ship depends on the cruise line, but it usually involves either waiting in your cabin or a public area for your tag color or number to be called, at which time you exit the ship, pick up your bags, and exit the terminal to your taxi or pre-arranged transportation to the airport or your post-cruise hotel.

Tip: It helps if you mark your luggage with colorful tags, tape or a colorful ties. Your bags will be easier to spot in an endless sea of cruise terminal luggage.

Happy cruising!


Is a Basic Economy Ticket for You?

passengers-519008_1280As a travel agent, I have clients comparing their fare against mine, as they well should. When someone questions a substantially lower fare found through a 3rd party site, more often than not, it’s a “basic economy” fare. A Basic Economy ticket can save you money, but just be aware of the limitations that come with it. Basic Economy amenities – or lack thereof – vary by airline, but expect to forfeit the following features:

  • Seat Assignment: No advanced seat selection – you’ll be assigned a seat at check in. This is important to know, especially if you are traveling together as a family and want to sit with your kids.
  • Opportunity for Upgrades: Ineligible. No requests for seat upgrades are allowed.
  • Ticket Changes or Refunds – Not allowed.
  • Boarding position – Be the last to board.
  • Carry On Baggage – You’re allowed just one bag, and it must fit under the seat in front of you.
  • Overhead bin access – not allowed.

When searching for fares, most vendors will have an option tool for not including “basic economy” fares in the results.

For those who can tolerate the bare minimum when flying, Basic Economy can be a great way to fly and save. Just know what you’re getting when you book.

Norwegian’s Offer-to-Upgrade Feature – is it Worth It?

In eager anticipation of your next cruise, you’ve logged into Norwegian Cruise Line’s online cruise planner, and you’re greeted by this:

Screen Shot 2019-02-06 at 7.17.21 AM.pngThose first four words grab your attention with a promise of a better cabin than the one you’ve already booked. Then your eyes move on to the words “Submit an Offer … “ and you realize that you’ll have to shell out some money for that upgrade. The big question is, should you submit an offer to upgrade your stateroom, and then ask yourself a second question – is it worth it?

Norwegian’s Upgrade Advantage guest bidding process is simple. Click the offer link, view the cabin categories available for upgrade, the minimum and maximum bids, and place a bid on one or more categories. As long as your bid has not yet been accepted, you can change or remove it any time. If NCL accepts your bid, the upgraded cabin becomes yours, and your credit card charged immediately. There is no changing your mind, it’s non-refundable, and you can’t pick the cabin location. In other words, you’ll take what they give you. If your bid is not accepted, then you lose nothing and you retain your current cabin.

So, how do you decide what amount to bid? First, go to the NCL website and pretend to book the same cruise and cabin you want. What is the current per person price? Then, look at the bidding price for that cabin in your cruise planner. If you really, really want that mini-suite, is your bid going to cost more than what it would cost to buy that cabin outright? The dollar amount slider will indicate your chances of winning, “poor” up to “excellent”. Surprisingly, the one time I bid on the next class up, from balcony to mini, I won with the lowest possible bid. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly what cabin we wound up with because we had to cancel the cruise.

Keep in mind that you are bidding on a class of cabin. So, if you’re looking to move up from an ocean-view to a balcony, you could win a balcony cabin in anycategory of that class – even an obstructed cabin. Also remember that you may have chosen your existing cabin based on a great location – for us that means mid-ship with easy access to everything on board. Your upgraded cabin could be anywhere – first cabin forward, last cabin aft, under a noisy club or any one of a number of unfavorable locations. Your upgraded cabin could end up feeling like a downgrade.

The most likely factor in deciding which bids are accepted and for how much may very well be how certain categories are or aren’t selling and how much space they need to fill before the ship sails.

Getting back to the original questions:

Should you bid: Are you perfectly happy with your present cabin? Probably not. If you are aren’t fussy about cabin location or absolutely would love THE HAVEN, and don’t mind spending the extra money, sure, give it a go.

How much should you bid? What can you afford and will you be getting a better cabin for what you’re willing to bid?

For more information about the bidding process, see Norwegian’s Upgrade Advantage FAQ.


Don’t Forget an Extra Camera Battery (or 2)

Remember the olden days of travel photography when you’d be face to face with a destination highlight like Niagara Falls, only to realize you’ve reached the end of the roll of film in the camera, resulting in a search for overpriced emergency film. Happily, those days are gone, taken over by the age of digital, the number of snaps limited only by the capacity of a tiny card. However, all this cool technology won’t work without a battery, and it’s astonishing how fast a camera’s battery can drain. Don’t be caught off guard when you’re ready to snap the shutter to get that award winning shot. Pack a spare battery that charges while the other is working hard in the camera. Even better, bring two spares – one to charge, one in the camera, and one ready to replace the one in the camera.

One more thing – don’t be like me and forget the battery charger. I lost both a charger and battery when I left them plugged into the wall of a hotel somewhere in my travels. Nowadays, I carry two chargers and all five of my batteries because it’s in my nature to forget stuff. This time I’ll be prepared.

Tuesday’s Travel Tip: Cash is still King

IMG_1762Nowadays, credit and debit cards have made it unnecessary to carry a lot of cash when traveling in the U.S. or abroad. But what if you lose your wallet, the ATM is out of order, or – worst case scenario – the world wide web suddenly crashes? Having some cash ready will come in handy.

It’s wise to have small bills for tipping, anyway, but to make sure you’re covered in case of an emergency, stash larger amounts of cash in a few places on your person – socks, under shoe inserts, hidden garment pockets – and in accessories, such as a toiletry bag.

When you find yourself stuck with credit cards that won’t work, you’ll be glad you stashed the cash.


Make Efficient Use of Your Cruise Cabin’s Walls

Did you know? Most cruise ship staterooms are constructed from metal. Any frequent cruiser can tell you that some cabins can be a bit skimpy when it comes to storage, specifically convenient wall hooks. While there may be a couple of existing hooks fastened to the wall or door, it’s never enough in my experience. Put those cabin walls to work with additional magnetized hooks to hang a jacket, hoodie, sweater, swimsuit, hat, key lanyard, and anything else you want to grab easily when walking out the door. Magnets also work great for important notices and the daily newsletter – just attach them to the wall for easy viewing. They are great for hats, jackets, notes, the daily newsletters. Before your next cruise, head out to the hardware department, pick up a pack of strong magnetic hooks, and bring your own wall storage!

Protect Those Fragile Souvenirs

IMG_1672You just gotta have it. That hand-crafted, little exotic ceramic piece in the window of the island gift shop. You think you’re going to sandwich it between your clothes inside your luggage, and it’ll arrive home just as gorgeous as it looked when you bought it. I thought the same when I purchased a beautiful set of a set of ceramic bird chimes in Jamaica, then carefully arranged them in the center of my luggage. Upon arrival home, I discovered a couple of the little birds suffered from severed wings. The chimes hang in my house anyway and, fortunately, no one seems to care that a couple of the birds appear to be physically challenged.

To avoid disappointment and to keep your delicate keepsakes safe from harm, simply throw a few sheets of bubble wrap in your luggage before you leave for your trip, as well as a ziplock bag full of packing peanuts. They weigh almost nothing and won’t take up much room. In the case of packing peanuts, you can also stuff them inside your shoes to maximize space. When you’re ready for the trip home, wrap and store them safely in your carry-on bag or, if there is insufficient space, place your carefully cushioned trinket into the center of your checked bag.

With a little advanced preparation, your breakables should arrive home in one piece.


Skip the Port Shopping Talk

C9EF7C69-3E28-4D8A-87EC-320E397C75EB.JPGEvery port on a cruise has opportunities for shopaholics to shop ’till they drop. Cruise lines and select port merchants know this and will team up in hopes of grabbing some of those consumer dollars. As a result, the crew will offer an hour-long talk on where they think you should shop, and will hand out a list of recommended shops including a map of how to find them with the promise of big savings or a free gift when you get there. Jewelry is a perfect example. What you’ll usually end up with is a high-pressure pitch to guilt you into paying too much for a piece you don’t want. Instead, skip the ship’s port talk and spend that hour in the hot tub! Once in port, get your shopping fix by going where the locals go. The prices are better, and you’ll most likely be buying something beautifully hand-crafted by a resident artist.

Learn the Local Lingo

If you’re heading out for vacation or business to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, why not take the time to learn? There are many excuses for not learning the local lingo … “it’s too hard,” “I don’t want to feel embarrassed,” or “I don’t want to make a mistake.” Before you sign up at the local community college, know that you don’t need to be fluent. Even in a foreign locale where basic English is spoken, it doesn’t hurt to learn at least a few basic words and phrases, such as please, thank you, how much is this? and where’s the rest room? There are a number of phone apps that can play a big role in your quest to speak a few words in the local language. Fodor’s Travel Phrases and Duolingo are just a couple.

The locals may be amused by your attempts at communication, but they will also considerate a sign of respect. They will be impressed that you took the time to care, and they will respond better than if you communicated using your own makeshift form of sign language.image