Monday, April 23, 2012

Round the World Cruises, are they for me?

Round the World Cruises are, a unique way to see a lot of different ports while at the same time enjoying a cruise.  These cruises are sailed typically by adventurous folks who are already fairly well traveled and have time to make the trip. These trips can be fairly long or perhaps somewhat short depending on how you go.  It is a fun way to see places you otherwise would likely not see. Most folks don’t of course pop from port to port via air or car for short visits. They may go for extended stays in select ports which is how many folks go enjoy the ports they really like after the cruise is over.

Round the World cruises are offered by a few different cruise lines.  Most Round the World cruises are offered by the luxury lines with Princess, an upscale cruise line offering some World Cruises as well. Princess cruises are typically not fully around the world, but segments out of the longer Round the World cruises.
Round the World cruises are often booked well in advance.  Frequently the best cabins are booked within hours of the cruise first going on sale as people tend to plan such a long travel event well in advance. The reason is there are so few Round the World cruises and the demand tends to be growing. The number of cruises available to feed the demand is not growing as fast as the demand hence a more limited supply of cabins. Thus the best cabins sell quickly.

Round the World cruises come in two forms full circle and partial circle cruises which are usually called segments by the respective cruise lines. Segment cruises are also very popular, especially among those who want the Round the World experience without spending the months on a ship required for a full circle cruise. Cost and time of travel are usually the difference between folks sailing a Segment and a full Round the World transit.  
Round the World cruises are a great way to see infrequently visited cruise ports. There are also numerous stop that are visited by cruises on a regular basis so you really get the best of both worlds.  The ports not frequently visited often end up gems because they are not yet overrun by cruise passengers in for a day rushing to see everything possible. Thus the ports tend to showcase more of a natural what life is really like around the area.  Mixing regular cruise ports with these hidden gems is part of what makes the Round the World Cruise an exciting adventure.

In addition to the exciting and unique ports a Round the World cruise is a great place to meet and really get to know other who enjoy cruising. These folks tend to be well educated and well traveled leaving open many different conversation topics. This is one of the things various cruisers really find exciting about these longer cruises.  Other cruisers use these long cruises to mark special occasions such as retirement.
No matter how you cut it, if you have the time and money and enjoy cruising a Round the World Cruise is an exciting way to send several weeks and see many different places around the world. When I retire many years down the road one of those cruises will be on the bucket list.  Speak with a cruise expert now.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cruise Fares, When is the typically best time to book my cruise?

When to book a cruise to get the best price, that is a question I hear often.  The generally most accurate answer when looking across the board for all cruises is that booking them when the cruise is first released for sale generally gets the best fare. There are some exceptions I will explore here as well.

Generally most cruise lines come out with early booking fares that are as low as you will see for most cabins on most sailings. They do this to encourage folks to put down some money to secure their cabins.  This is also when you have the best shot at securing some of the best cabins on the ship.  Both agencies setting up groups and folks who know they want select cabins book in the first couple days a particular sailing is listed.  If you want one of the prime suites on the ship, such as the Presidential Suite, or Royal Suite on the Freedom of the Seas, typically they need to be booked in the first couple of days they are open for sale.  That is not to say these cabins can’t ever be secured closer to sailing, but it is a rare find.

Some cruise lines regularly sell a lot of their cabins when the sailing is first announced.  Disney is one where when they announce new sailings cabins become short in supply very quickly. Many of the sailings operate on a fully refundable deposit basis, so other than tying up some money in a deposit, it’s in most folks minds not a big deal to grab and later release a cabin.  If you think you want to sail a route and can swing the deposit money being tied up for a while, securing you cabin early is worth locking up some money.  If you consider the increase in cost for the cabin, it often represents a great return on your money having the cabin booked.

A number of luxury cruise lines have pricing programs where as a select number of cabins sell all of the prices for the ship go up at a predetermined percentage level. The number of cabins for the first rate increase is often reached fairly quickly after release of the sailings.  There are some lines that offer a single price from start to finish, but these are rare sailings and typically start out quite expensive anyhow. The reason they don’t change prices is the minimal number of guests makes it nearly impossible to offer different prices among the few cruisers on their small ships.

If you plan to sail a group, it is usually a very good idea to work well in advance so you can secure a block of cabins at the very best prices as the cruises are first put on sale. Over time as the supply of cabins dwindles, the prices for new bookings climb. For those who secured their cabins ahead and the groups they keep their lower prices.

Some folks say, at least on certain lines, it’s best to wait for last minute deals. Although on select sailings it is possible to snag a great deal at the last minute, that is the exception, not the rule.  Some cruise lines will put on sale those cabins they want to move to fill up a ship. Most often when those cabins go on sale they are not the best cabins you may want as your cabin on a given sailing. Often the cabins on sale are in only specific cabin categories, so if you have your heart set on a specific category, you may be disappointed by waiting.

Recently, I booked myself in a junior suite on the Mariner of the Seas and then the next day looked for a client what was available.  The same cabin had gone up $100 per person after I booked my cabin. I see all the time where cabin prices increase and seldom see where cabin prices drop. Most folks I know are in the same boat, usually seeing cabin pricing increase instead of decrease.

The key, if you know you want to sail book early and lock in the best price. Just check the terms of the deposit if you may need to change sailings to ensure you can get the full deposit back if needed.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Is the at sea internet very good?

If you work hard and are always in touch, or own your own business where you must be accessible, fear not, most cruise ships have phone and internet service available.  Now with that said let’s chat about the issues related to internet and phone connections while at sea. They are far better now as technology has evolved, but sadly they are far from perfect.

First off, you must know that your internet speed will be fairly slow on a ship. For one there is only one connection that everyone is sharing, unlike in your own neighborhood where folks are using several connections.  We also see more and more people spending time logged on while at sea. I admit I do so nearly every day to check email. I don’t surf the net unless I need to go get some critical piece of data.

You will also find that although the internet is available it can get fairly costly to use if you use much of it. Most of the major cruise lines though do offer some really good package deals which bring the cost down to a more palatable cost/per minute. Of course it’s still a cost you will see on your on-board spending account at the end of the cruise.  Those who happen to be frequent cruisers may well get some free internet time while aboard and some also get additional discounts on the packages.

You will find that aside from the slow connections, there are some other key factors that determine how well your connection and speed will be.  On older ships where the internet satellites are a bit older (have not yet been updated) a bit of a rock can lead to choppy connections in plain English. What this means is that although you are connected the strength etc…are poor and the internet is slowed to a crawl as packets of information are checked and rechecked to get the data to and from the ship.  This can make those email communications frustrating especially if they are critical.

Another area where you will begin to have difficulty with internet is the middle of Atlantic and Pacific crossings where the satellite coverage is spotty if at all. The satellites are set up in a geostationary orbit so they provide coverage to a specific view of the world at all times.  This allows for better coverage of those areas, but due to the cost of the satellites coverage is not global. Coverage is established where there are people who want to pay to use the services.  

In some ports various communications devices must be turned off. I have yet to personally experience it, but you could find that your internet via the ship is turned off while you are in certain ports around the world.  This is a rare occurrence though.  On the subject of internet in port, I would like to point out that rarely in the major ports of the Caribbean will you find free internet access while sitting on your balcony scanning.  Some ports have totally free internet in their terminals but most often it is in the building or just outside the walls only. Dubai is one such port which comes to mind.
Overall if you only want to upload and download email, the internet on the ship is fairly reliable and fast enough to send plenty of messages up and down without too much difficulty. However, if you start sending or receiving large attachments the whole process will slow to a crawl pretty quickly.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Should I only shop in “cruise line endorsed” shops while in ports?

This is a topic often discussed among experienced cruisers. On board the ship, where generally a large portion of the passengers are new to cruising or have only one or two prior cruises, the official line by the cruise employees is you should only buy from recommended shops.  To some extent the real answer is more of a port by port based answer.

Some ports are safer than others for venturing out to whatever shops you want. When I say safe I don’t intend for you to think in terms of personal safety but instead to think about it as will you be dealing with honest businesses. When you are laying out a bunch of money on some fine jewelry or art, or whatever you like to collect that is expensive it’s imperative that you deal with honest and reputable businesses.  Those businesses who aren’t honest know you are off the ship and likely can’t come after them if or when you find out what they sold you is not what it was advertised to be. In many ports the local authorities aren’t going to stop anything that brings money to the economy while in other ports where there are strong consumer protection laws the less reputable businesses can be shut down.

One thing to be wary of are the street vendors. Don’t expect to get high quality trinkets from them in most places. That said if you are seeing lots of hand crafted art work and you like it bargain and get some. The artisans often need our support and their art work is usually as good, or better than you get in the trinket stores.  Some places around the world yield far better artwork than others, or more unique artwork.  In particular I really like the hand carved items put out on the island of Bali.

Focusing on the high end things that the folks on the ship shout out; “If you like it, you want it, buy it!” So we are referring to liquors, higher end souvenirs, and even jewelry.  Often for the high end souvenirs there will be other decent shops that offer similar quality goods. You of course have to take a look at the items in both places to know for sure what you are getting, or just know what to look for in terms of quality before buying at the lower cost not recommended stores.

For jewelry, or high end art, it becomes a bit difficult to say one way or the other is fine to go. When buying gold you need to know are you getting the real thing, is it as solid as they say, or just plated? Many questions come up with jewelry and watches, it’s critical to know what you are buying.  Know the expected quality, what it should look like, and what you would be paying at home. That will help as you shop other than just the recommended shops.  

Know the general attitude and laws about misrepresentation where you are going. Singapore, the USA, and Canada are great examples of places where you are generally safe dealing with an established shop either recommended or not, because these countries have laws to protect consumers.  On the other hand, Mexico is one great example of buyer beware.  When in places where the attitude is buyer beware and you can’t be certain of exactly what you are buying, then it is probably best to stick with a recommended shop.

A cruise and shopping in port should be a fun experience. To that end depending on what kind of money you are spending, it is best to be careful that you are buying. You should either what you know is legitimate and that you are getting a good deal on such deal, or stick to recommended shops where you have some recourse.  Just keep in mind that the recommended shops are not accepting returns based on buyer’s remorse.