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About Sthrngary

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    Cool Cruiser

About Me

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    Birmingham, AL
  • Interests
    RVing, Movies, College Football
  • Favorite Cruise Line(s)
    Holland America, Celebrity, NCL, Oceania
  • Favorite Cruise Destination Or Port of Call
    Any where
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  1. When I wrote this op-ed, many months ago, I outlined not my opinion on children onboard, instead my experience. It was a sentence or two reference. It seems I hit a nerve. All me to clarify. I have been cruising for over 40 years. My wife and I have two children that cruised with us when they were young to their adulthood. As a matter of fact, my adult children will be cruising with us in May 2021 to Alaska on the NCL Encore. My experience on many past cruise showed very clearly, most children of all ages were respectful, well behaved, and had lots of fun. Children like adults can be both excellent cruisers and selfish cruisers. It is human nature. My comments in the original post gave reference to several of NCL's Larger ships that had a Haven Courtyard. The children in question were between 4 through 7 ish. There parents were no where to be found. This group of about 5 - 7 children, used the Haven Courtyard as their personal playground. Getting in the hot tub was extremely difficult. They used the lounges in the pool as forts. They jumped in the pool splashing anyone near the pool. Most of what was difficult to take was against the rules of the Haven or any pool area. I made the Haven courtyard and all its original concept null. On the occasion the parents showed up which was rare, they did not control the children until the situation got so out of hand, they had no choose. My comments were not because I don't like children, not at all. I just think, regardless of your age, proper behavior with in reason is expected. I also think the kids program on a cruise ship is there for a reason. Mostly, I think if you take your young children on board, you need to supervise them and not expect the staff of waiters or servers to be their babysitters. If you are a frequent cruiser, love big ships, have the ability to go to any VIP area like the Haven; all you ask is respect and relaxation. Not to much to ask in my opinion.
  2. I am the original Op-Ed on this topic. I thought I would engage again. Cruise Ships and RV's are kind of similar. One is a house on wheels and the other is a house at see. RV's have a tank called a black tank. That is where all your Toilet/head waste goes including toilet paper. The issue is regular toilet paper does not dissolve very quickly and clogs black tank and often the lines. Any cruise ship is very similar. Just a lot more people (like 4000). Side note, a very good friend of mine whom has done very well financially owned a lovely yacht. His request was to take care of "#2" prior to and after leaving his yacht. You can't do that nor should you on a cruise ship. That is why the paper is not the nicest to some of our more, sensitive area's. I was in the Haven, no difference in paper there then anywhere on the ship. Hope in some way this helps everyone with the concern.
  3. I am very impressed that you are taking the time to learn the best approach to your future cruise. Good for you. What you will find out is your time invested will pay dividend. I am going to give you a link to an article I recently wrote. The title is: PRE-CRUISE ACTION CHECK LIST CREATING A “ROCK STAR” EXPERIENCE. I love cruising and years ago could not fine information on a check list except for a packing list. Therefore I wrote this. Some of the items will not help you and others will. My goal is to be so well planned out I can JUST RELAX. My issue is I am the only person in my family that really plans our vacations. So it it goes right, everyone takes credit. However, if it goes wrong, I am the bad guy. Just the way it is. Have a read and it is a bit detailed and long. Enjoy. Love your feedback. http://www.garytilkin.com/pre-cruise-action-check-list-creating-rock-star-experience/
  4. I was having a conversation with a close friend. He asked me, “What is your absolute favorite vacation?’ Without taking a breath, I responded, “A Cruise”. He asked, “To Where?” I again quickly responded, “I don’t care. Hell, I can just to out on the water for days with no destination in mind.” This confused him and he needed me to elaborate. My appreciation for cruising came from wanting a specific set of outcomes for my vacation that coordinated with my likes. Allow me to outline them. Let me start by saying my life is full of stress and having to make critical decisions for my family and clients every hour of every day. I needed a vacation from my life. This is what I set as my requirements. I HATE: Having To Make Decisions On My Vacations: Since my life is making decisions every day, I just want to make as few decisions as possible as soon as my vacation begins. Paying for Every Meal Individually on Vacation: Allow me to clarify. My family eats out at least once-a-week. Once every month or so we go to a really nice place. My wife loves to drink wine and my adult children think when I am paying, they can experiment with foods and adult beverages. The kids order expensive drinks and don’t drink them. They order meals and when they don’t like them, they don’t ask for something else. They just don’t eat, then complain as I pay for a check the size of some mortgage payments. I HATE that feeling. On a cruise, especially if you are in a Suite or have a Specialty Restaurant package, you get to order whatever you want. If you don’t like it, order something else. When we cruise, everyone has an “Adult Drink Package” so the same thing hold true. See, it is not the money so much as it is not having to worry about paying for a bad time. I am more then happy to pay more for the experience if I don’t have to pay every time. My PHONE and my EMAILS: When I go on a cruise, I make it clear to my family and clients my phone and Wi-Fi are going to be turned OFF. Do I check them, sure. I just want to have an excuse which is that the Wi-Fi or internet connections is awful on a cruise ship. Cruises definitely give you that. I Love: To be Entertained: If you have ever gone to New York City to see a Broadway Show. You again have to take a mortgage out, just to sit in an average seat. On a cruise, you can select the brand, based on the kind of entertainment you really like. Lots of shows, some are Broadway tours that won Tony awards. Want to see it again, go another night. Want to dance, see a comedian, do karaoke, or just have a cigar listening to jazz music; cruises give you that almost every day. Breakfast Out: My favorite meal to eat out is breakfast. Making it at home, is great and fun. The cleanup is NOT so much fun. At breakfast, I love pastries, coffee, eggs, meats and especially cold cut platters. Great bread is something I don’t do much during the year. I look those foods when I cruise. Where in the world can your options be limitless, as well as, it can be on a cruise. To Go Out In The Sun: I don’t need sand on a beach or a pool, although they are quite nice. Instead, I want sun, a bartender, a cigar and a book. Can you add in a great cheese burger or two for lunch. You can do that? I am all in. Especially when I get tired and my walk to my suite is only 5-minutes away. Answer, a cruise. An All-Inclusive Vacation: It is NOT about the money spent. It is more about I don’t have to worry about it and it is paid prior to leaving my home. This falls back to my goal of not having to make any decisions. Gamble (a little): I am a terrible gambler. But I do like to test my luck from time to time. Add all the above likes and dislikes and what type of vacation can come close to giving you all that. A cruise. To be Treated like a Rock Star: You work all year. You work 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. One week a year, you deserve to be treated like a “Rock Star”. When I was done with my explanation, my friend kind of got the point. His next question was, “How do I organize a cruise to get all that done?” This was one more stimulus to create the article that is linked below. “A Pre-Check List Creating A Rock Star Experience!” http://www.garytilkin.com/pre-cruise-action-check-list-creating-rock-star-experience/
  5. I never thought of that it would not be open. Thank you. One must hope.
  6. I am not sure if anyone is active on this thread but I thought I would give it a try. I am booked on the May 23, 2021 Encore cruise to Alaska. Does anyone know how I can pre-book the thermal spa online. Thank you. Cruise well.
  7. I LOVE cruising and have for over 40-years. In late May 2021, my family of five (5) and I will be going on our “Bucket List” cruise to Alaska, on the New NCL Encore. This will be my wife and my 41st wedding anniversary. Our 40th anniversary cruise, was cancelled, like many of you. After 23 cruises in 40 years (the first was our honeymoon on the Norwegian SS Norway), I wanted to give some opinions on a couple of items that folks ask about all the time. I wrote a cruisecritic.com op-ed months ago, about the NCL Haven Experience. It had GREAT readership and feedback. So I thought I would write about another topic. Upgrading from the NCL perk for the “Premium Adult Beverage Package” to the “Premium PLUS Adult Beverage Package”. If I have learned anything over the last decades of cruising; there is “No Free Lunch”. Another words, there is a COST for everything. Many cruisers feel that purchasing a drink package at the retail price from most main stream cruise lines is ridiculously high. I agree, yet most cruise lines provide an normal adult drink package as a perk (Premium Adult Beverage Package on NCL). From a full disclosure standpoint, this perk with NCL is NOT FREE. You have to pay the tips on the package which is a confusion point when this perk is offered. Still a bargain, if the perk is given. What my wife and I ALWAYS do is upgrade to the “Premium PLUS Adult Drink Package”. The question is WHY? Please understand your situation may differ, so this is just our preferred preferences. My wife LOVES, did I say loves, to drink wine. At home, we sit on our roof deck almost every night and she takes a bottle up there so she does not have to go down three flights of steps in our town home, to get another glass. On a cruise ship, my bride loves to sit on our balcony, and sip her wine. However, when you get all the wine glasses you want with the Premium Adult Beverage Package, you still have to go to the bar to get another one. If you want a bottle, you can ONLY get it from room service and there is a cost. When you are dining, you have to keep on asking your waiter for another glass. If that is all you know, you are fine with it. However, when I go on vacation, I want to be pampered and so does my wife. I also do not want to have one item on my ship portfolio when the cruise is over. Been there and done that way to many times. When you upgrade to the “Premium PLUS Adult Beverage Package”, you can order a FULL bottle of selected wines with any of your meals. You can take the unopened bottle back to your suite or have it delivered. This allows there to be a bottle of wine (or two) in your room for the night time balcony ritual. Seems like a little thing, but it really made a HUGE difference for my wife’s experience on our last few cruises. I love premium bottled water. Especially the nicer brands. With the Premium PLUS Adult Beverage Package, bottled water is provided while dinning or in any bar. I always bring these back to the room, just like the wine. We love lots of water in the suite, especially at night. Add to this, specialty coffee. Normal coffee is always complementary for everyone on the ship. Specialty coffee is NOT. Every night, after dinner, I order a specialty coffee. On some ships, there is a Starbucks also which may or may not be included in the Premium PLUS Adult Beverage Package. Am I spoiled, YES I AM. Finally, drink cost limits. We a very few exceptions, most every brand is available to you at NO addition add-on cost when you have the Premium Plus Adult Beverage Package. If you just had the Premium Adult Beverage Package, you are limited to $15.00 per drink total. Seems like a lot per drink? It is. However, what I personally like to do is try the better premium brands. I want to know what I am missing. I assure all of you, I look for every opportunity to get the high-end stuff during my cruise, with this package. If I were to put this expense in to a phrase, it would be; “I want to feel like a rock star for one week a year!” Is it worth the extra money, probably NOT. Do I do it every time, YES I DO! Feel free to comment and ask any question on this topic. I hope my experiences help some of you make a choice. Cruise well, be safe and stay healthy.
  8. Sand Fleas: I will be honest with you, we got off the ship; went on the small boat to the dock; got on the bus to the resort; walked through the sand to the bungalow and never went on the beach again until we left. So no sand fleas. When we went on the NCL private island, we had a Beach Villa (Book this early also) and no sand flea's. Placement of the Bungalow: Yes, go to the excursion desk and should be no issue. Also, like a seat on an flight, just ask the folks next to you if they would swap. Expectations: The Bungalow are close to each other yet still provide privacy. Not like the commercials of Figi Islands. The edge of the wood that is not covered from the sun can get really hot and this is were the dinning/eating area is located. The food is just OK, especially if you are staying in the Haven on the ship where the food is spectacular. The Butler/Bar tenders are always great. You need something, just ask. No need to leave at all so you can enjoy the area for the hours you are there. The bar is right behind the bungalows so it does not take long to get a drink. Pictures: I have none on purpose. I did not take my phone. My goal on a cruise ship is to put my phone in the safe and take it out the day we leave. The Beach: Is right behind the bungalow's. Skip it. Again, if you want beach, what for the private island. That is the nicest private island I have ever been on with a cruise line. The Beach Villa is also very expensive yet not all inclusive which is fine. On that situation, you can have as many as 8 folks join and share the costs. Another great option. Other thoughts. I am 63 and my wife is 60. We loved the water slides on the ship. Loved them. Both shows were fantastic and I don't usually like on-board shows. If you can afford or upgrade to the Haven area it is a deal changer. Enjoy your cruise.
  9. We all need this right now. The right to the place is a little long especially when all you have is coffee in your stomach. The right back seems short however lets say you have some adult beverages that make the time pass faster. If it was not for this excursion, I would have this port as a ship day for sure.
  10. When I wrote this post, the "All Inclusive Over the Water Bungalow" was $499.00 for two. I asked on board how much an extra person was and was told $199.00 per person. If it is $25.00 per person now, that is the bargain of the century. Please remember, when I went on the Getaway that Thanksgiving, 2019. So much has changed between now and then. I hope you enjoy this excursion. Remember, even though it is private, engage with your neighbors. If you drink, careful, the sun, water and unlimited shots can get away from you. I would be lying if I told you a few of the folks with us, could not keep up but tried. All I can say is you make your own time on any aspect of a cruise. Got at it to make it a story you can tell your grand kids. Vacations are so important especially now. Enjoy.
  11. Yes, RCCL and most of the other cruise lines are approaching this situation about the same. The Buffet where we serve ourselves has to be terminated of only for the time being. This does not mean that the area where the Buffet was is gone. They are all finding a way to evolve using there crews to serve there guests. You can imagine how complicated this will be so they are limiting the options to make it manageable. It we all think about the health issues, It could be a plexi glass shield between us and the food. We tell the crew member what and how much we want on our plate. At the end of the line, our plate/plates are brought to us at our table. Even before this crazy pandemic, this approach was used in cafeteria style dinning. In my opinion, this is an improvement. Not just sanitary or health, also one of my biggest issues; waste. Folks will be less likely to over fill their plates on their first trip through the lines. They will not stand in front of one entry staring at it or waiting for the "Steaks" to come off the grill. Others will not play with the food and touch it, then not put it on their plates. The serving tools will be much cleaner then they had ever been prior. All of this is a really good thing for a really bad reason, a pandemic.
  12. I have been cruising for over 40 years with 23 cruise under my belt. My wife and I, 40 years ago Honeymooned on the SS Norway. The largest cruise ship at the time. We used to love to go to the mid-night buffet for the 5th meal (A take off on Taco Bell's 4th meal logo). As the many cruises and years went on, we started to dislike the buffets. Lots of food, lots of variety and average to below average quality and taste. About 10 years ago, when we turned 50 ish, we wanted to upgrade our cruising experience. We began to take less cruises however when we did cruise, we did suites. From HAL, Celebrity, MSC, Oceana, Royal and NCL. Each had suites only restaurants who's food was better then even specialty restaurants. Yet still, we had to go back to the ships buffet for at least one meal. Every cruise line, every cruise we felt the same. Average food, average quality lack of seasoning, yet lots of it. I remember on a recent Celebrity Cruise on the Equinox. We world sit on the top deck, in front of the real grass, go to the buffet for a cheese plate and bread. Simply stated, the Buffet simply ran its course. What really bothered me personally was the way folks would touch food and not put it on their plate. Then there was the unbelievable waste. Folks that piled the food 6 inches high and eat 1/8 of it. I really think this is a great think to have buffets go away. Remember, back in the day, it really was different. Cost cutting over the years made buffets below average. So bravo to Royal and all the other cruise lines for being brave enough to say, Bye Bye buffet. Just my two cents. Cruise well everyone.
  13. I have been in the Haven on the Bliss and Getaway. I am booked in the Haven Deluxe Owners Suite on a May 2021 sailing to Alaska. I also wrote the article on the Haven Experience here in CruiseCritic.com. I have not gone in the suites class on Royal. I have gone on the Suites class on Celebrity. I have cruised 23 times, in 40 years with and without my children. The NCL Haven Experience is the literal best unless you go on a "Luxury Cruise". From the Haven Spa Suite to the Haven Deluxe Owners Suite. The best experience of any main stream cruise line. Do you pay for it, YES of course. Can you travel in an inside cabin for far less? Goes without saying. So here is why. The Haven on the larger ships is the only way to do Haven. Lots of reason however let me give you the high hard ones. First and my personal favorite, the Haven Restaurant/Bar. Same menu for every meal however you get usually 3-4 specialty restaurants to add serious variety. Note, my May 2021 sailing on the Encore I paid for it with American Express Platinum Card and received an additional $300.00 OBC and dinner for two at my favorite specialty restaurant, the French restaurant. All that being said, the Haven Restaurant even with the same menu would have been perfect for my wife and myself. The smaller ships don't have either a Haven Restaurant or Bar. You get Breakfast and lunch at Cagney's Steakhouse. Just Not The Same. Second, when you chose the larger ship, get the one with the retractable roof like the Bliss or Encore. My best example would be my upcoming trip to Alaska. The roof will be retracted close, the pool will be heated in the Haven. The rest of the ship has to have one of the limited turmoil spa package. Worth the price of admission right there. Third, both dis-embark and excursions. From the Haven Desk, they send you down the crew elevator with an escort. You are in and out in less then 3-minutes. Never had this experience on any ship regardless of price or category. My Celebrity Suite called, the "Celebrity Suite" lol, had a butler also. Had a suite only restaurant which was nice. Cost a lot of money and had no Haven courtyard. Never again. I hope I help even though my post is really late. Be well and cruise well.
  14. What makes a cruise vacation different from all others? The fact that there are NO perfect cruises, ever. Something always surprises you. Some catastrophe will befall you. Something, out of your control, will frustrate you or a member of your family. Murphy’s law is still alive and has a bullseye on your upcoming vacation. The imperfect nature of a cruise vacation is what makes them most memorable. You just don’t think so at the time. Yet the memories are priceless. What we all can ensure is that our next cruise, will be as good as it CAN be. This is done with due diligence on our part. The sheer nature of today’s cruising demands a new level of strategic planning. When I bring this essential aspect of cruising up on social media or even with my own family; I get the same negative comments. “You have to stop planning so much. Just live in the moment and go with the flow!”. What everyone seems not to remember. I used to be a, “Live in the moment and go with the flow” kind of guy. By never planning and using no strategy, my vacations were expensive and, in most ways, below average. When I started to think it through a bit, the improvements were drastic. My goal from-start-to-finish; to enjoy the process and control what I CAN control. Once I have done that due diligence, I understand that, whatever happens is out of my control, “It is, what it is!” Let’s go down the list of planning I do, have done and will continue to do in the future. In this outline I will also give my opinions, which might differ from yours. I will tell some very true stories to add some context to my overview. Let’s get started: · Online Check-In: All the cruise companies have a website for online check-in. You can eliminate so many hassles and planning mistakes by just using it. Consider it a cross check that you have everything you need well in advance. The greatest mistake made is not having a valid and up to date Passport (see subject below). The most important part to remember; even if the passport is valid today, it must be valid months after you came back from the cruise. Not many people know that fact and get turned down when attempting to board. Online check-in also allows for providing all the information for your guests and how their on-board expenses are paid. What is funny about online the check-in process is it seems when you get to the check-in desk, the day of the cruise, the cruise staff seem to ask some of the same question. Still it is a best practice to have completed all the information, way ahead of time. · Make Online Reservations for Shows, Excursions and Specialty Restaurants Early: Cruising has sure changed a lot over the years. It used to be all you had to do is tell the cruise line what dinner seating you wanted, early or late? Today with specialty restaurants, Broadway type shows, excursions, go-cart tracks, laser tag and the list go on; if you want to choose your day and time; book right away online if possible. If you are staying in a suite or VIP area, you can do these online reservations before anyone else. Read the perks of your cabin to see the dates. This will allow you to know the benefits you receive with the cabin category you have chosen. · Coordinating Dinning, Shows and Excursions: I hate rushing, especially on vacation. When I am on a cruise, I want to have a meal with conversation. If I just wanted to fill my belly, I would go to the below average buffet. After I dine, I want a drink or two. Then go to a show or the evening’s entertainment. Coordinating restaurant reservations with the shows times onboard takes some thought. Along the same lines, excursions that come back to the ship close to dinner, do not allow for bathing, drinks and relaxation prior to dinner unless you plan it that way. This category falls again on reducing stress, frustration and anxiety. · Develop A Calendar for a Page-At-A-Glance: For every cruise, I develop an excel spreadsheet for every day, with times from 06:00 AM to 12:00 midnight daily. Everything I have confirmed reservations for are listed. Arrivals and departures of laid out daily. The flights prior and after the cruise are listed. This one document is the foundation of all the work I do pre-cruise. · Travel and Trip Cancellation Insurance: I never considered travel insurance for 20 of my 22 cruises. Then I read so many bad stories about all kinds of things. At this stage of my live, my cruises are extremely expensive. Especially when we take our adult children to stay in our suites. Although I am quite healthy right now, I am also 62. I came to find out that when you are on Medicare; like I am currently, it does not cover medical outside the United States. Glad I found that out. Also, if you don’t book your air with the cruise line, if you are delayed or have a cancelled flight; they have the obligation to get you to next port of call. If you use Airline points for purchase your own ticket, you better have travel insurance. Stuff happens and I no longer am willing to take the risk or have the stress. My upcoming Europe 10-day cruise I used Delta Airlines points for Delta One business class seats. If my cruise come back to port two hours late, I miss my return flight. I just want my air fare in Delta One to be covered. I am thinking ahead. · Arriving, the Day Before Embarkation: Do you have travel insurance, YES. Do you like stress on the first day of your cruise vacation, NO. Do yourself, your family, your cruise partners and your stress level a favor; fly or drive in the day before. Think it is expensive, it is not. Use one of the online hotel discount services like PriceLine.com. Get a hotel near the port. This allows you to chill, not worry and most importantly to me; get on the ship early. I like getting on the ship early to explore when very few passengers are on board. I also like to get a drink immediately. For those situations like reservations that you must make on board, you are first in line. I have heard every single excuse not to arrive the day before. You have been forewarned. I must add a note here. My best friends, wife and I are going on a 10-day Mediterranean cruise in October 2020. I told our friends that I was going in the day before. The husband refused to do this because of money ($450.00). I explained, you must buy transfers ANYWAY that will cost $175.00. It is a bargain to get the pre-cruise hotel because it includes the transfers. He said the cruise line will get them onboard because they booked the flights. I shared with him; the cruise ship will leave without them. They will fly them to the first port missing the first two-days of his cruise. He still refused. Let see what happens, hope he is lucky. · Book Your Departing Flight 12:00 PM or after: Most cruise ships get in to port at 06:00 to 08:00 AM. Unless you have a suite or priority status, getting off the ship can be very time consuming. Then getting to the airport also can be tough. Don’t cut it to close. I will give an example so you can truly see my point. I booked a European 10-day cruise. I did a “cruise only” then used all my credit card and airlines points to get a Delta One™ round trip for my wife and myself. Delta One™ is the highest level or class from Delta Airlines international flights. The cruise comes back to port on the final day at 08:00 AM in Athens, Greece. My flight leaves the Athens airport at 12:00 PM. It is a 45-minute trip to the airport. If I miss my flight, there is no other flight until the next day. I also may not have a Delta One seat if that flight is sold out the next day. I am taking a risk however I know that upfront. I also have travel insurance. Another words, I have hedged my bets on this one. · Make a Hard Copy Binder: I print out my cruise documents, travel insurance policy, reservation for everything, airline information, and the list goes on. I can’t tell how many times I get to the ship and someone contradicts the work and preparation I have already done. Most recently it was the Canyon Spa facility. I pre-booked at 25% discount spa treatments. The onboard spa folks said it was not valid. An email from the V.P. of Canyon Spa’s doesn’t lie. This is only one example of the benefit. My Binder is now famous. I make it a bit more elaborate every cruise. I love this stuff. · Know the Cruise Line Rules: There are a couple of rules you need to know before booking your perfect cruise. It is important to add that every cruise line is a bit different. Do your due diligence on the cruise line you have chosen. 1. Cabin Prices Do Change: The price can go down prior to you paying your full balance. If it does, you can rebook, get free upgrades as well as perks, and or on-board ship credits. Check frequently. Oh yes, I know all about the computer programs that inform you about price reductions. I tried them and they were just OK. My frequent checking is much more accurate and fun for me. 2. When You Pay In-Full: Don’t look at the listed prices online. If they went down, you will be disappointed. Once you pay in full, you can’t change, and you won’t get the extra benefits. The reason why? The cruise line dropped their prices because they had to many cabins in that category. Their need to move what will soon be dead inventory. They have no incentive to give us a deal when they have ALL our money. About now, some of you are getting very angry with me. You have had the positive experience of calling the cruise lines after full payment and gotten benefits. I on the other hand have had undue frustration of having my travel agent or discount house do this for m. My experience is on multiple occasions, the travel agent and discount houses are way more of a hassle then I can accept. Book directly with the cruise line and have direct communication when you have any needs. Back on topic, the disappointment of not saving a few dollars makes my cruise that much more unappealing. I just don’t’ look now. “You do you”. 3. Upgrade Promotions: Look for those unique promotion. They happen; when they do, you might just get lucky. One happened for me on my next Oceania cruise to Europe in October 2020. I went from a Concierge level to a Penthouse for the same money. The lesson is; once the promotion is gone, even gone for a single day; they won’t honor it anymore, PERIOD. I saved $2,400.00 per my cabin. 4. Passports: I brought this up earlier, yet it needs to be mentioned again. Think if your passport is valid for your trip. You could be wrong. Every cruise line has different rules on when the passport expires. Do your research so you are not left at the port. 5. Late to the Ship from an Excursion: No cruise line wants to leave you at the port. No captain wants to leave a port while you are late coming back to the ship. Some folks, not many, want to test the cruise line rules and captains’ patients. Then they complain on social media telling half the story, so the cruise line looks bad. I have been on a cruise where two-couple that were traveling together were always the last ones to arrive back on the ship late. After this happened twice, the captain warned the couples personally. They did it again. The ship left without them. The couple met the ship at the next port and were irate. The lesson here is just like hoping your airline will wait when your incoming flight is delayed, cruise ships have more to worry about then just you or me. 6. Smoking Anything: Specifically smoking in your cabin or balcony. This is a sure-fire way to be kicked off a cruise ship. The smell affects anyone near your cabin. The real issue is fire. That is what makes the issue so dangerous. Cruise ships don’t mess around with smoking in cabins. a. Vaping: Vape is also not allowed unless it is a designated area. This rule I don’t understand, and I am sure will change in the next few years. No smell or fire. However, the rules say they are no difference between vape and tobacco. My wife Vapes. She does it all the time and everywhere she goes. She has mastered the technique of stealth vaping. In four years, no one has ever seen her smoke her vape. I hate she does that but again, in my opinion, vape is different. Just my two cents. b. Cigars: There are many cigar lounges on cruise ships now. I know, I frequent them. There are also outside smoking area’s for cigarettes and cigars. These areas allow the smoking. Therefore, please do not go up to folks in these area’s and ask them to put out their cigars. This has happened to me and I nicely informed them I was in the designated area. They were none too pleased. All I am saying is follow the rule. c. Pot: Yes marijuana. It is illegal. Should it be, NO. Until it is legal, it should not even be a subject or question if it is ok to smoke marijuana onboard. Seem common sense, but it is not. I can’t tell you how many times on Social Media this question comes up. I used to post back and now I just skip it. My opinion does not count if the item is still illegal. Follow the rules. Read Online Reviews: There are lots of places to read online reviews. I use Reddit, CruiseAdiict.com and CruiseCritic.com most of the time. The strategy for best use of reviews is the middle 80%. Top 10% love every element of their cruise experience. Bottom, 10% hate every element. The middle gives a much better perspective. Don’t just take one review as the truth. Get trends and patterns over several reviews. Look at all aspects of the cruise, not just the ship itself. Let me give you my categories to consider and some examples of what I have found in my research: 1. Complementary Restaurants: It becomes clear where the best food is located on a cruise ship. In addition, what to or not to order. I focus on the Buffet, 24/7 restaurant and Main Dining Rooms. What I have learned is to avoid 24/7 restaurants; consider buffet for breakfast; consider pool grille if folks like the burgers, Etc. In my situation, I rarely go to any complementary restaurants at all. I always have specialty restaurants or suite-only restaurants. I also rarely have a complaint with my food because of my choices. If you are not in a suite, just check the reviews. They will suit you well. 2. Specialty Restaurants: You would think since you pay extra or receive specialty restaurants as a PERK, they should be GREAT. You would be wrong. The best example is on both NCL Getaway and the Celebrity Equinox. The Steakhouses were both very disappointing. On the NCL Encore, the American Diner was also rated below average. Now I review online, every specialty restaurant prior to making a reservation. I also down-load the sample menus. This increases my enjoyment of the food experiences onboard. I rarely miss now and love sharing my food experiences. 3. Excursions: I am not a classic excursion person. I have had so many bad excursions, I have learned my lesson. The online reviews both good and bad, give you an idea if a specific excursion will suit your tastes. I have a personal favorite, which I will share. The All-Inclusive Cabana/Beach Villa/Bungalow on some ports and or private islands. These little day events allow for maximum flexibility, relaxation, pampering and family time. They usually have a butler and sometimes have an unlimited bar. Everyone’s tastes are different so make your educated selection. I would like to add when free PERK is offered as a benefit. Be very careful, like with Oceania. The Free perk of excursions are standard excursions. None of them were anything I would want to do. Now the special more expensive excursions were great. I choose to take the onboard credit over the excursion package and glad I researched it. 4. Cabin/Suite Types: The most important thing to remember is on mainstream cruises, regardless of your cabin/suite level, everyone is on the same cruise ship. Prices for cabins/suites can be as low as $500.00 all the way up to $6,000.00 plus per person. When I started cruising 40 years ago, we got the cheapest cabin on the ship. As cruising became more popular, the quality of the service, food, dinning, entertainment, pool lounge chair availability, etc. started to go downhill. The reason was both economics and cruise industry marketing. To drive new, current and future cruisers onboard, the prices went down, the PERK became a factor and upsells became much more common place. My wife and I started to want a better cruise experience, so we began the journey to the VIP Suite. One category at a time. Eventually we were in suites with butlers and private restaurants for suite-only guest. We now only go on a cruise in the VIP Suites area’s or with luxury/premium cruise lines at Penthouse or above. Before we book any cabin/suite, we review it even more closely due to the investment involved. Your tastes and budget may vary. 5. Entertainment: For the most part, cruise entertainment has been average, to below average, overall. Not the way it used to be for sure. Then I realized it WAS the way it used to be. I was just not going on the brand that had the best entertainment. When we first began cruising, we cruised on Norwegian (Now known as NCL) for the first five (5) cruises. The entertainment was great. Then we started to go on different mainstream cruise brands for the next 17 cruises. We finally ended up back on a large NCL ship called the Getaway. The entertainment was top notch. If you want entertainment, NCL and Royal larger ships seem to be the choice of most cruisers. Look it up for yourself. 6. Ship Renovations/Drydock: I suggest you see if the ship you are about to go on is scheduled for a Renovation/Drydock soon, choose it another time. The ship will show wear and tear. I also really feel like travel agents get some sort of incentive to put you on those older ships, even though I can’t prove it. If it just went through a drydock, wait a few weeks to months until the crew get reacclimated. I went on the Celebrity Equinox in 2018 right before it was going to drydock. Let me say the crew was rather awful, some of the venues were closed, the signs were wrong and the food, other than in the Suites restaurant, was below average. What is funny is the Equinox gets high marks on CruiseCritic.com all the time. I call it the curse of drydock. 7. Ship Layout: It matters how the ship is laid out. Especially the newer ships. With the very popular VIP sections to ships, the common areas seem to be taking a hit. The best example is the brand new NCL Encore. They took away a lot of the main pool area, lounge chairs and other common areas. In its place is laser tag and a huge go cart track both of which cost more. The upper deck where the prime viewing is now the VIP Haven Sundeck only for Haven clients. The VIBE Beach club which cost extra, is also on that deck. The cruise lines are looking for ways to improve their bottom line. To be fair, I am going on the NCL Encore in May 2020. I will be staying in the Haven and already budgeted for go carts and laser tag. Just my chose to do so. All this came with research so I will not be upset at the additional expense or in this category, ship layout. 8. Cruise Line Added Client “Pay Extra” Items: a. Spa Treatments: My opinion, skip them. It is always way overpriced, and the quality of the treatments are average at best. The spa service is also known for the classic upsells. I literally hate all upsells. Think you are getting a bargain when you pre-book spa treatments with a quantity discount, think again. I did this on a recent cruise, and it made little or no difference. The onboard spa staff said my discounts would not work and tried to double talk me. I called the spa company while onboard on day one, prior to sailing; they called their staff to set them straight. I will never make that mistake again. b. Thermal Spa: On this, I do recommend you consider it if you like quiet, relaxing and exclusivity in an adult only area. My only suggestion is that you do a thermal spa on a newer and larger ship where the facilities are better. You can also book a Spa Suite and the thermal spa comes with that as a PERK. If you have a few extra dollars, NCL has the Haven Spa Suite. It has all the VIP benefits of the Haven and the spa thermal suite comes as a PERK. c. Mini-Refrigerator: The moment you get to your room, have the room steward empty all the “For Sale” items from your room especially the Mini-Refrigerator. Everyone thinks this stuff is free until you get a big bill at the end of your cruise. Then aspect of your perfect cruise is gone. The one exception is on Premium and Luxury cruises. The contents of the Mini-Refrigerator are usually complementary. They also get refreshed every day by your butler on those nicer cruises. You pay extra for this PERK, however less then what you might expect. d. Specialty Shows: These are shows in a smaller venue on the larger ships, that usually come with drinks and possible a meal. Some are great and other are not. Learn before you book them. I rarely will do a specialty show that has a dinner meal. I am usually in the Suites and or specialty restaurant for my dinner meals. Just does not make sense. I would make an exception if I heard the show was spectacular. Only one way to find out, research it. e. Activities: Laser tag, Go-Carts Track, Reality Adventures and Escape games usually cost extra. Some are well worth it and others it is better to just watch folks do them. A great example is the very cool Go-Cart Track. What they don’t tell you is regardless of your reservation time; you still must wait. If you bought an unlimited pass, the availability of the track is limited during port days. Folks that stay in the VIP section have a quick pass lane as do the folks that purchased the unlimited package. The lesson here is simply knowing what to expect. f. Frozen Vodka Bars: Cool idea, I love Vodka and I would PASS on this item. They give you a winter coat, provide you with a vodka drink and provide you with a bill that is mind numbing. Better to go to one of these bars “on land” for the full effect. Your Attitude: Cruises are what you make of them. If you get mad at the slightest thing, a cruise is simply not for you. Make a commitment to yourself that regardless of what happens on a cruise, you will make the best of it. When I read a review from someone that complains about a steak being over cooked and it destroyed their cruise, I am saddened. Some of the worst situation my wife and I has ever experienced on a cruise are some of our fondest memories. Over the years when I changed my personal attitude, my cruise experience got so much better. My issue now that I must work on is not what happens to me. It is over reaction to what happens to my family. I feel like I must protect them. I am working on it and getting better, slowly. How to Handle Rudeness from Fellow Cruisers: You are on a huge ship with a lot of different people. Entitlement is a huge issue on cruise ships. How you handle it will make or break your cruise experience. Here are some examples of rudeness: 1. Hall Hogs: These are the folks that take up all the space in a hall not giving you a way to pass. They stand there like they own the hall having a group conversation. They either don’t see you or don’t care. a. Solutions: i. Ask firmly to be allowed to pass. This solves the issue most of the time. ii. Tap someone on the shoulder so you can get by them. iii. Tell them off. Say, “Folks are trying to get by, take the conversation to an open public area.” This is a last resort. I have done this when all else has failed. 2. Loud Folks: Whether in a public area or in their cabin. Some folks are just loud. My wife corrected me in the thermal spa one day that my voice was too loud. I had no idea and I quieted down immediately. There are many stories about couples in their cabins fighting verbally and or well, being loud doing other things that should be private. a. Solution: i. Leave a note on or under their cabin door. ii. Call the cruise staff to act on your behalf. iii. Just let it go. 3. Drunk Folks: I am no prude. I love to drink. Sloppy drunk is unacceptable. If this person is not effective your time, just let them have their fun. If they get into your space and you have an issue with it, they take some action. If another person, hits on your spouse, you obviously must act on this. Let’s not get tossed off the cruise for a drunken fight, not a good idea. a. Solution: i. Tell the bar manager quickly. ii. Be firm but nice to the person asking them to back away. iii. Move to another area and don’t get an attitude. iv. Avoid the situation at all costs, if you can. v. If you are the drunk one, buy me a drink. 4. Restaurant Storytellers: I love to be entertained; I really do. Just not while I am having a quiet dinner, it a lovely French restaurant. One such situation happened recently. A couple started by verbally and loudly commenting negatively on every single item they were served. Then the wife started to bring in other table to tell her life story. Seems her cruise was freebee because, in her words, “She Gamble so much!” Her husband keeps rolling his eyes at her and let us know how much pain he was in all the time. By the time this couple was done; we knew their entire life story. They finally left and all the table around us let us know how happy they were, we were next to these storytellers and not them. a. Solution: i. Go with the flow and consider this to be an extra show you did not have to pay for. ii. Ask the server to discreetly move you. iii. You can try not to engage but that simple won’t work. These folks are professionals at what they are doing. 5. Lounge Chair Hoarders: This is the most famous of ALL rude people. Some folk’s think these folks do not really exist. That they are folk law. Wrong, they are alive and well. Rules mean nothing to these people. They go to elaborate means to reserve their front-row lounge chair by the pool. Custom made signs, huge beach bags, getting to the lounge chair at 06:00 am and one couple that had a towel that said, “This Chair is Reserved”. Before I give some solutions, let me say this is one where I WANT to get confrontational. It is just wrong and selfish for these folks to do this. a. Solution: i. Ask the folks around the chairs if the folks have been around or are at the pool. Then move their stuff under the chair and take it for yourself. ii. Skip the above step and simply move their stuff and put under their chair. iii. Get the crew to move their stuff. iv. If someone says they are reserving the lounge chair, say “I will move when your party comes back.” Then, take the chair. v. My favorite thing is when the person holding the chairs for hours says something to me. Huge mistake on their part. My response is quick and simple, “These chairs are for using not saving. Read the rules provided by the cruise ship sometimes. If you have an issue, call the pool supervisor. I will be sunning in this chair if you want to find me.” Say this loud enough for the folks around you to hear it. I have gotten an ovation from the folks sitting close. 6. Theatre Chair Hogs: These folks are different then the Lounge Chair Hoarders. These folks were delegated by their family to save entire row of theatre chairs for their group. They are embarrassed and some of them look like they want to go under one of the chairs. In 22 plus cruises, these poor people wait and most of their family just does not show up. That is my experience anyway. a. Solution: i. Don’t ask if the seat is available, just take it. If they say anything, just say, “This theatre’s policy is first come and first served.” Then order a drink. ii. Tell a staff member what is going on and insist they address the issue. iii. Just stay in a suite or VIP section of the ship. They have reserved seating for you for most of the show. Most folks won’t like this solution. It is very expensive to stay in those accommodations. I know that completely. The suggestion is a real tell of where the cruise industry is today. These higher priced suites and VIP sections of cruise ships are its most profitable cruiser. 7. Buffet Slobs: These are the folks that touch food and then done take them. They eat while on the buffet line. They use utensils for other items in the item in front of them. They cough and blow their nose near the food. They spill stuff all over the buffet and walk off. All these practices are completely unhealthy and unacceptable. This is a health issue, more than anything else. You must do something here. a. Solution: i. Say, “Are you going to take that?” ii. Take the item off the buffet and give to the attendant. iii. Ask attendants to swap out utensils or clean the area. iv. If it is someone else’s child, tell their parent. Children issues are very tricky whether on a cruise ship of not. v. When you leave, share the experience with the buffet manager. 8. Unsupervised Children at the Pool: I left this for last because it is the most difficult to handle. It seems, some parents thank that the pool is the cruise ships babysitter. The parents seem to think this is there vacation and their kids can do what ever they want. The hot tubs are filled with kids splashing away, jumping in and out of them. Even on a recent NCL Haven VIP area, the kids were making this relaxing area a playground. I mentioned this on both CruiseCritic.com and Reddit Sub-directory. In both cases, I got yelled at for accusing all children are not well mannered. Not my point at all. The quality of my vacation could be damaged by this situation and it needs to be addressed. a. Solution: i. Tell the staff if a rule is being broken. Running, jumping, splashing, ECT. ii. If you see the child’s parents, say something. Choose your words carefully. iii. Never address the child. That will lead to a confrontation you don’t want to have. iv. Good luck with this one. Tough situation. I know it seems like a lot of things to consider. Consider them ALL we must. For years, I was a professional speaker. Folks were amazed at my ability to always have an accurate and prompt answer to questions given. They were amazed that I could handle the rudest participant in a way that was non-confrontational and did not take away from the other participants learning experience. What all the observers missed was the hours, days and weeks of preparation and study it took to be in front of that room. It was not a gift; it was hard work so the event was as close “Perfect” as it could be. No event, like no cruise is ever completely perfect. That is where my entire strategy for the Perfect Cruise Vacation comes from. Preparation for almost all the possibilities so a strategy is in place. This allows for far less mishaps and far more of what a cruise can be. I hope you enjoyed this article. Feel free to let me know if you have any question. Always cruise well.
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