Friday, July 29, 2011

First Time Cruiser - What to Expect on Embarkation Day

Here is my next post in my series for first time cruisers and one that well so many just don't know about unless you know someone who has sailed and they will tell you the ins and out of the day you get on (Embarkation) .

Now my experience will be with Princess mainly and I can a little Carnival experience.

Of course this depends on where you are boarding, but if you are boarding in any American port it is pretty standard, and if it is Fort Lauderdale, well they have it down pat!

Time to arrive at the port:  now the cruise line says not to arrive before 1 pm, and well sure you could, but really a lot of people arrive very early, so early that the people haven't gotten off the ship from the previous sailing.  Now one tip is go to the pier, drop off your bags with the porters then head off and do a few of things in the city and return back when things are not so crazy at the pier. 

There are numerous ways to get to the ship, and again this depends on what port you are sailing from, but if you are in Fort Lauderdale, many hotels offer free shuttles, taxis are a very low cost way too, and if you wish the ship also offers transfers.  Talk to your travel agent to see what they recommend.

We personally arrive normally around noon, normally by taxi or by rental car.  Princess does allow those who are at Platinum or above with the Captain Circle membership priority embarkation, which sometimes helps and sometimes doesn't.  Normally if you have priority embarkation, all people in your party can also come with you to the priority line. 

You arrive at the port and the first step is going thru security, very similar to the airport security but not as intensive.  Somehow though you still find people who have not idea that yes when they say "do you have any coins or metal in your pocket" that does mean do you have any metal in your pocket.  Somehow we seem to always get a good laugh at the people in front of us who have no idea what to do in security line. 

Would like to add that Princess allows you to bring your own wine/champagne on board.  Check out Princess' new wine policy and what you can expect with bringing wine on board here. We normally bring on quite a few bottles of both, and we also bring on some soda as well.  

Next you are usually given a medical form that every passenger must fill out.  This is the form to see if you are carrying any intestinal virus symptoms.  It is important that you fill out this form honestly, you don't want to be the reason a ship ends up on a high level alert. 

The next line is for your cruise cards and paperwork.  Now with Princess the areas are divided by decks and there is a special area for suites and for Elite/Platinum passengers.  Again sometimes we go to the Elite line but often our deck queue is shorter so we go there.  You will be asked for your passports, a credit card to charge your onboard charges to, you will have to give them your completed boarding pass (that you fill out on line before you sail).  You will then be given your cruise card.  This is your card that will work as your key for your cabin, and it is also the card that you will charge everything to.  Most ships don't take cash in any of the venues except the casino.  When you want to buy something in the stores, you show your card and they charge it to your account, same goes for beverages, tours, flowers, etc.

Once you have gotten thru all the above lines and if the ship is ready to board, you head up the gangway, oh but I forgot, you need to get your embarkation photo taken with a lovely background.  Smile and let them take the shot, you don't have to purchase this picture if you don't want to but hey they are just doing their job.  Okay so now you are heading up the gangway where you will come up to the ship's security.  You will have to enter your key card into a box and have your picture taken for security -- this picture identifies you as a passenger in the system and every time you go on or off the ship you enter your card and listen to the "bing". 

You are on!  Now time to find your cabin, if you need assistance just ask one of the many crew that are around.  But if you can make out the thing they call a ship map and can find your own cabin then go for it.  One nice thing is with Princess cabins are available as soon as you board, so we always head to the cabin and do the "we are on another cruise dance".  We unpack our carry on bag --- always bring a few items in your carry on, like things you may need for the next six hours, because it is hard to gage when you will get your luggage.

Approximately and hour prior to sailing there will be a muster drill -- no it isn't called a mustard drill, it is called muster drill.  There will be announcements prior on when it will be and usually is announced by some bells and on the p.a. for everyone to head to their muster station.  With Princess you have to go back to your cabin and get your life jackets (some others don't require this) then you head to your designated location.  Here you sit and listen to what to do in the event of an emergency and then you get to try on the lifejacket, yup time to whip out the camera and take a picture.  I've been warned not to put up this picture of us in our lifejacket.

Now the fun begins, you return to your cabin and drop off the lifejacket then head up to the open deck for sailaway.  Normally there is live music and well we need our traditional drink.  For me it is melon margarita and for Bernie it is a Salty Dog.  We toast another great trip.

If you are sailing from Fort Lauderdale, make sure to wave to the condos that are on the north side of the causeway as they will send the ship off in style.  Also wave to the people on the beach.
And next step head back to the cabin and unpack your suitcase. 

Have your cruise card ready and enjoy your voyage.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cruising for the New Cruiser - Who to Book With - Where to Sail

I've decided to do a few blogs about cruising for the new cruiser, why?  Because so many people, almost every day ask me a question about cruising.  So I am sure there are more people who have questions, and hopefully this series of blogs will help.

Island Princess

First, I am no expert, I don't work for any cruise line, I don't work for any travel agent.  I just love to cruise.  I have been cruising since 1988 when I started with Carnival Cruise Lines, and sailed four times with Carnival.  But in 1997 I talked my husband into trying his first cruise.  We sailed on the original Star Princess to the Caribbean.  Thankfully he was hooked and we continued to sail Princess to this day.  Currently we have sailed 25 times with Princess with 5 future cruises booked.

I work full time as a transit driver for the city of Vancouver.  I get asked all the time, wow you must get a lot of vacations because you sail so often.  Well with 13.5 years on the job I get 4 weeks vacation, I get 2 more weeks to cover all the holidays (as buses run every day of the year) as I work the holidays.  I am also able to bank two weeks of overtime.  So normally we sail and often have to get trades to cover the extra days, or we take leave of absences.  Somehow we make it work.

So back to cruising.  This blog is going to be about booking and where to go as a first time cruiser.

First I have to say Travel Agents are the back bone of your trip and not enough good things are said about them.  If you have never cruised before, if you are not sure which line to sail on, if you are unsure of where to book a cabin on the ship, if you are unsure of where to sail.  Then I have one thing to say to you, contact your local travel agent and ask all the above questions.  They will direct to you an appropriate cruise line and destination and will assit you with picking the best cabin for your needs.

St. Thomas, from Water Island

A travel agent will also help you with pricing and work with you and explain all the rules and necessary documents you will need.  Trust me I hear the horror stories - make sure you have the documents you need, visas, passports etc.  There is such a large learning curve when it comes to cruising, why not gain the experience of a knowledgeable person.

Now saying all the above, if you are travel savvy, you know where to go, and when, and with whom, well try some of the online agency.  I of course have a few favorites, but my main agency is often mentioned in my blog (so I won't mention here), and I have been using them for probably our last 16 cruises, if not more.  However I use their services online, I know exactly what line I want to sail, I know what type of cabin and location I want.  I need very little assistance when booking, if any.  I also can recommend cruise only agencies, like cruise ship centres, they know what they are talking about, this is all they do.

Now the question of booking directly with the cruise line, well I am not going to say not too, but I am going say WHY.  A cruise line rarely will get you a better price than a travel agent would and a travel agent will work for you.  Often travel agents will offer you specials like on board credits, or gifts, like wine, or coupon books, etc. 

Princess Cays, Bahamas, Princess' private island
Now where to cruise as a first time cruiser.  If you just want to try out a cruise for the first time, I would recommend a seven day Eastern or Western Caribbean.  Why?  Seven days is a good intro, less than that you don't relax enough, also travelling a distance for anything less than seven days is too exhausting.  With seven days you get a real feel for what a cruise is all about, you don't feel too rushed.  Sure you could try a short cruise, maybe a repositioning cruise (see earlier blog), but often they are just way too short, you just get on board and learn the layout of the ship and you are getting off. 

I recommend the Caribbean because normally the weather is very cooperative, you get to travel to exotic places with lovely scenery and you can relax, and oh yeah it is romantic.  Also the price for seven day cruises is very competitive and you can often find great deals.

My next blog for first time cruisers will be on -- What to Expect on Embarkation Day and Disembarkation Day.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Repositioning the Quick Little Getaway

I mentioned in an earlier blog about how much we like doing the short little repositioning cruises.  Of course we are blessed because we live in Vancouver, but if you live in California or Seattle you too can take advantage of these repos.

We are booked on the upcoming Golden Vancouver to Los Angeles, and we scooped it up for $175 each person for an inside thru an agency we have been using forever (this is a past passenger price - a little more if you have never sailed Princess before).  It should be noted that this price was about two months ago and the price has gone up a bit, but often the price drops closer to sailing date and especially after final payment which I believe is this coming week.

Now think how romantic a short voyage would be.  No distractions, great food, great accommodations, great entertainment and time alone with your honey.  Normally if you book a hotel, you can't get a price lower than $100 to 150 a night (in fact we just booked Seattle for two nights and we are paying $100 night and that was thru Priceline).  Then you still have all your meals and entertainment to pay for, and even parking. 

After reviewing this Fall's repositioning cruises in the Pacific you can get cruises for around $55 to $75 a night!  Sure you have airfare back but even with that you are still ahead of the game.  We got airfare back to Vancouver from Los Angeles for $130 each, so for $305 each total $100 a night each, we have everything covered, minus drinks.  And if you know me that could add up, but the price of the drinks on board are comparable to what we would pay on land.  In fact just had a Cosmo at a local restaurant called Milestones and it was $8.99 plus tax!  So that is more than the ship's price.

So I know I am rambling, but these repos are such a great deal and such a great getaway, and trust me your honey is going to love it.  Just think breakfast in bed every day, a movie in the afternoon, latte in the atrium watching a juggler, a game of trivia, cocktails before dinner, fabulous 4 course dinner, checking out a full production show that evening, and then dancing in the disco, then go to bed and get up and do it all over again.

drinks with some of our friends on the Golden

Many ask me when should we book a repo, well that has changed as of recent.  With the loss of a few ships to Alaska these past two seasons the inventory is less.  But next year we are seeing a few more ships coming back, namely one more for Princess, the Star is back.  My advice is book early and then take advantage of any price drop before final payment.  But saying this, you can always sit and hold out and book last minute -- meaning a month to two weeks prior.  But if you are going to wait for a last minute deal be prepared to loose out on the cruise you may have your heart on, and you will probably have to settle for a cabin guarantee, and maybe an inside, however an inside is fine because you really are not going to partake of a balcony on board as it is too cold in the Pacific in September.

Now the other inside information I have - buy stock in the cruise line that you travel most as most lines have a stockholder benefit if you own 100 shares and they give you an on board credits.  So with Princess for a cruise of 6 days or less you get $50, 7 - 13 days $100, and more than 14 days $250.  So for this voyage we will get $50 on board credit, and we will also get a $25 loyalty credit (21 - 30th cruise with Princess) - so guess where I will be spending my $75 on board credit - yup on wine, or cosmos, or maybe margaritas... notice a trend.

So check then repos out!  And bon voyage.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Planning for the Caribbean

Like I mentioned in my earlier blog we decided to head back to the Caribbean for another back to back on the Emerald starting November 28.

Flights deals were hard to find, and we soon found out why, The American Thanksgiving weekend was the weekend we wanted to fly down and the day we wanted to fly home was the start of Christmas holidays for a lot of schools.  Fares were noticeable higher, where we usually pay around $300 - $350 we couldn't find anything under $400.  This week we decided to book and got our usual flight (6 am out of Seattle, arrive in Fort Lauderdale around 4:30) and then chose to fly out the day we get off the ship (Sunday) and fly back to Seattle via Chicago, all for $406, which is still about $400 cheaper than flying from Vancouver.

We were able to scoop up at great deal for a 4 star hotel in Fort Lauderdale thru for $85 a night that is right on the beach for three nights prior to the cruise.  Here is a link to the Sheraton Beach Hotel  

This trip feels different, usually we have so many friends sailing with us and the roll call is a flutter of conversation with getting to see each other and planning port activities.  This time we have both agreed that we will attend the meet and greets for both sailings; however that will be it, even though both roll calls are planning a few activities.  I guess we just feel since many of our friends won't be there it just won't be the same.

But we are also looking forward to spending time together - just the two of us, time to focus on us, with no distractions.  Bernie can't wait to pick up his champagne at Total Wine and have it ready for a few sailaways from our balcony.

The only shore excursion we have booked is Woodbine Sail and Snorkel in Bonnaire, but other than that nothing else is planned. 


Since this is the fourth time we have done this itinerary we know all the ports and we just want to enjoy the time away.  I can foresee many days spent at the beach, or just touring around on our own and enjoying a great meal in port.  Or heck we don't mind just staying on the ship and enjoying the ship.

We still have to reserve a hotel for Seattle for the night prior to our flight, which we will do on Priceline too.  We will park our car at our usual car park place which always gives a great rate for month long parking. 

Bernie is really wanting to visit Sawgrass again in Fort Lauderdale, but that entails renting a car and not sure if we really need to go back to Sawgrass and trust me the money we will save will be a lot.  Depending on the weather I am thinking relaxing by the pool, or doing some sightseeing in Fort Lauderdale will do just fine.