Thursday, October 14, 2010

Your Most FAVORITE Cruise Line

This is just a quick, non-scientific poll to see which cruise line you would most likely choose for your next cruise vacation. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Carnival Cruise 2010-a Preview

We are excited to be just a little over 30 days away from taking our first cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines.   This cruise will make a total of 6 cruises for me.  I will also be able to say that I have sailed at least once with Royal Caribbean, NCL, Princess, Disney and Carnival.  I had a goal early on where I wanted to personally sail with these cruise lines because, in my opinion, they have the broadest appeal among mainstream cruisers from all age groups.  I have always taken pride in my knowledge of certain travel products and it is hard to beat personal experience when it comes to speaking to others about their cruise options.

So with that said, I will be blogging about our cruise as usual once we return and will be giving my personal opinion of the ship’s staff, food, accommodations, ports of call etc.  But for now...I want to give you all a preview of the ship we will be sailing on and our personal trip plans.

Cruise Date and Length:
We sail away on November 14th for 7 nights.

The Ship:
I am thrilled that my first cruise with Carnival will be aboard the Carnival Conquest.  I have studied the Conquest class of ships and they appear to offer a something for everyone.  The ship weighs in at a modest 110,000 gross tons and first entered into service on November 15, 2002.  It can carry up to over 3700 passengers and normally sails with just over 2900 happy cruisers. It measures in at just over 950 feet in length and has 13 passenger decks.  Over 32% of its 1487 staterooms have balconies. 

I am even more thrilled to say that we have chosen an OS Category stateroom which is one of 3 suite categories aboard the Conquest.  Our suite has an entry area, a separate dressing area, a bathroom with 2 sinks and a whirlpool tub/shower combo and an extra large balcony where I plan on spending a lot of time each morning enjoying my cup of coffee.  It also has an abundance of closet space, a couch, table and chair and nice king sized bed.  The OS Category was once called a category 11 for those who may still not be accustomed to some of Carnival’s re-categorization of their staterooms. The OS stands for “Ocean Suite” and the only categories above ours would be the GS or “Grand Suite” and the “Captains Suite.”  We are on the Empress Deck in stateroom 7273. 

We are also excited to test out Carnival’s VIP embarkation and disembarkation process which I have heard or have read some mixed reviews about.  I will explain more about it in my review upon our return.

Port of Embarkation
We start our 7 day cruise out of the Port of Galveston.  This will be our first cruise as well out of this port.  So far, without question, my favorite port of embarkation is Port Everglades (Ft Lauderdale).  I like how close the airport is to the port along with the abundance of hotels that are within view of the port itself.  So I will be curious to see how things go on this cruise.  We will be spending the night before our cruise in the brand new Four Points by Sheraton which is very close to the port.  The hotel offers free shuttle to and from the pier and my goal is to wake up early the morning of the 14th to see if I can catch a glimpse of the Conquest returning to port from its previous 7 day cruise.

Ports of Call:
This cruise will make stops at 3 different Western Caribbean ports of call; Jamaica (Montego Bay), Grand Cayman and Cozumel.  In addition, we will have 3 full days at sea...we LOVE sea days!

Our Plan:
Here is what we have arranged for this trip.  For the first time we will be driving from our home in Missouri to the Port of Galveston.  It is about an 11 hour trip so we will get on the road Friday afternoon and head for Dallas TX where we plan on spending the night at a La Quinta Inn.  The next morning we have a special breakfast planned before heading the rest of the way down to Galveston.  For the first time in 42 years, my wife is about to meet her birth mother who did the most courageous thing in the world over 42 years ago which is give her daughter up for adoption.  After our much-anticipated breakfast, we will head to Galveston where we will be spending the night at the hotel I mentioned earlier, the new Four Points by Sheraton.

Once aboard the Conquest, our goal is to relax and take full advantage of the full sea days before we arrive in Montego Bay.  We have been to Montego Bay back a few years ago when we sailed with Royal Caribbean on the Radiance of the Seas and our plan is for me to hop off the ship, buy some Blue Mountain Coffee, snap some pictures of the ship and hop back on to take advantage of a ship that is practically empty.

We will then sail to Grand Cayman where we have our only excursion booked.  I again have booked our excursion through and I highly recommend that you check them out when thinking about excursions for your next cruise.  They are reasonably priced (cheaper than the cruise line in most cases) and very reliable.  We have a beach day planned which also includes a nice lunch at a local restaurant down on a stretch of Seven Mile Beach that is less populated. 

Our last port will be Cozumel where our only plan is to disembark and take a stroll through some of the shopping areas at our leisure and potentially find a nice local restaurant for lunch before again getting back on the ship to take advantage of more available poolside seating and possibly an “in port spa special.” 

I think you can see by our plans that they are skewed heavily towards R&R and less towards scheduled activities.  My other goal is to see as much as the ship as I can and eat in as many of the ship’s dining venues as I can so I can adequately discuss its pros and cons upon our return. 

So please stay tuned...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Travel Question: Do I Need A Passport? (U.S. Citizens)

This is by far the most frequent question I receive from clients and potential travelers. So here is my answer...YES! Please, if you do not have a passport already, make plans to get one soon. Look at it as a travel necessity as you would luggage or a camera or anything else that would always be on your packing list.

Now before you go off and cite the U.S. State Department's official answer to the question and claim I am off-base, hear me out. If you plan on visiting Canada or Mexico from the United States by car, you need a passport (or the passport card). If you plan on flying to ANY Country outside of the U.S. including Canada and Mexico, you need a passport.

But...if you are going on a cruise and the cruise leaves from a U.S. port and returns to a U.S. port, then your cruise is considered to be a "closed loop" cruise. In this case, you are not required to have a passport or the passport card even if your cruise visits foreign ports during the cruise. The key is that it has to leave from a U.S. port and return to a U.S. port. As of the time of this article, you only need a State issued driver's license AND a copy of your State-issued birth certificate.

So again, before you go off and decide now that you do not need a passport because you only plan on taking a cruise, let me throw you some curves that might make you reconsider. First, the U.S. does not control other Country's requirements when it comes to entry documentation. You may go on your cruise and get to a port only to find out you cannot enter that Country because they require you to carry a passport. But here is the one scenario that I hope will make you rethink and hopefully go ahead with getting your passport; Assume you go on a cruise and go to a port such as Jamaica. While you are in port, you go on an excursion and, during that excursion, you break a bone and are transported to the nearest hospital. Now imagine sitting there and looking at your watch and realizing that your ship left port an hour ago. So you start thinking about flying home from Jamaica, but soon also realize you will need a passport to fly back into the U.S., but you had decided to save the money and NOT get your passport. Now what ya gonna do?  Now we all hope that this would never ever happen, but the question is...what if it does?

The above scenario is not far fetched and I wish more travelers understood the pros of getting their passports instead of only looking at the one negative which is always the cost. Look at it as an investment (I know that is bit of a stretch). The passport for an adult is good for 10 years and the sooner you buy it, the cheaper it will be since passport prices are constantly going up, not down.

I HIGHLY recommend for you to visit this LINK where you can get the latest and greatest passport info and costs for adults and children. If you are pondering a vacation of a lifetime that will take you outside the U.S. borders, don't put the passport decision process off, make it a part of your advance planning and get it checked off your to-do list and let the real fun part of the planning process begin.