Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What kind of shopping is available on the ship?

I can honestly say that I am writing this from just a few decks above and about 50 meters forward of the shopping area on the Island Princess.  Yes, there’s lots of shopping available on this and most other cruise ships.  Depending on your tastes you can find clothes, duty free booze, and even new jewelry on your next cruise without leaving the ship.

One thing to note, the cruise lines are only able to have the ship shops open while at sea. The shops are closed while in port due to local port rules and regulations. This does not really hurt your chance to shop on the ship since in port you aren’t usually hanging out planning to go shopping on the ship anyhow. I’ve always found the shops to be open an adequate amount of time while at sea.

The boutique shops range from fine jewelry shops where you can get top designer watches or diamonds. They also tend to carry a range of items to suite a wide range of gift purchases so most folks on the cruise ship can find something in the shop to their liking.  Also found onboard is a liquor shop selling a wide variety of the most commonly purchased alcoholic beverages at decent a price. Just keep in mind there are customs limits on how much you can bring back duty-free. You can bring more and pay duty, but it is best to get the most current limits and duty costs from US Customs before your trip.

Another standard shop is the logo shop for the particular cruise line. These you can find Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, or whatever cruise line you are on then, t-shirts, polo shirts, model ships and more. It is a great place to get trinkets related to the cruise and ship specifically.  It is always a good idea to watch for sales when they try to close out some of the merchandise as it may fetch you a good deal. T-shirts often go on sale one evening during the cruise, but you may find they are limited in both size and design on those days.

Usually you will find a boutique clothing shop aboard as well. This tends to have more expensive and nicer clothing, often with a flavor of the destinations you will visit. You can typically find some nice button down shirts along with nice dresses. You also find some fancy costume jewelry in this shop.  If you decide you need to dress up more for formal night this is a good place to go stop and check out the deals they may have. This shop often is where you will find fine crystal figurines alone with other high end collectible souvenirs.

There is typically also a camera shop aboard that not only handles the on-board photography but also handles the sales of digital cameras. They often offer services handy to digital photographers such as transfer of your pictures to CDs or DVDs. They also can usually print selected photos as you wish which can be good if you like to have prints or need them to share with others.  They are usually involved in the production of the cruise in review or similarly named DVD of the cruise.  These folks are also a good source of help with your current digital photography. Of course they do like to help you upgrade your current equipment.

Overall the pricing in these shops for many of the items is at a slight premium above what you can get on land especially when you find things on sale. The prices are definitely not hugely out of line though.  If you need something while on the ship they are there so that is a plus, but if you are looking for inexpensive souvenirs from your destinations, I’d recommend buying while ashore.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Are all travel agents knowledgeable about cruising? Is it better to look for a travel agent who is specifically trained for cruise travel and is certified by CLIA and the cruise lines?

Travel Agents typically can see most any travel regardless of their actual knowledge of the product. This is unlike what you find in many other fields. It allows a travel agent to help you plan most if not all aspects of a trip, but at the same time does mean that when for instance buying a cruise you don’t necessarily know what if any training that agent has about cruising. In fact specifically looking at cruising there are many agents who sell cruises who have yet to set foot on a cruise ship.  It would almost be like buying a new car over the internet from someone in an India call center who hasn’t ever seen the a US manufactured car up close.

Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) offers various levels of certification to travel agents. There are also a couple of travel agent certification programs that help set agents apart. I will focus on CLIA here since I am CLIA certified and I am focused on cruises in this post. CLIA offers an Accredited Cruise Counselor program as well as a Luxury Cruise Agent program. They also have a couple of other programs where there are some additional advanced studies required.  I hold the CLIA Cruise Counselor and am working on my Luxury Specialist Certification as well.

Part of what CLIA’s certification program requires is feet on ship time.  Each certified agent has been on at least two cruises and several additional ships to see what different ships look like and to better understand a short and long cruise.  With the definition I am using of short being 5 nights or less and long being 6 nights or longer.  In fact agents have to use at least two different cruise lines to accomplish this certification.  If asked many of the folks selling cruises would have to admit they are neither, enrolled in, or certified as a cruise counselor.  Also, the cost of taking two cruises is a hindrance to some agents, and the two actual cruise requirement is not waived.

The advanced programs, such as the luxury cruise specialist require even more study and more ship visits.  They also require minimum sales within a two year period which helps keep the certification process aimed at folks who truly sell cruises and know as well as understand the process and product. This is a step up from the sales certification programs offered my many of the cruise lines. Yes, the cruise lines do actually offer a program to get to know what makes them different than other cruise lines.  They do not require though any ship visits or cruises as part of the overall program.

Some of us actually used actual cruises on several ships to obtain our ship visits and cruises. For me I have over 20 actual cruises almost all of them week long cruises. In fact I had to seek out a short cruise to meet my last requirement for certification, not a bad thing to have to do to finish such a certification.  I’ve cruised on several cruise lines, and cruised everything from very laid back live-aboard dive boats which are a specialty product right on up to the largest ship sailing, Royal Caribbean’s Allure Of The Seas.  Each offers a unique experience and of course the different ports around the world offer different experiences.

I’ve sailed Asia, The Middle East, Alaska, and all over the Caribbean. I’ve sailed Northern South America and even transited the Panama Canal from Ft. Lauderdale on the way to Los Angeles.  All of these unique experiences help me, and other agents who sail a lot and are well trained the ability to really help you pick the best cruise for yourself and your family.  There is nothing more disappointing than going on a vacation and it not being what you expected and as a result possibly not enjoying yourself.
Ultimately a well trained agent, and for cruises that means their having the top level training for the particular line recommended as well as a CLIA training certification is key to ask about when selecting an agent. An agent who says it is not important likely is not well versed in really selling folks the right cruise for their particular vacation needs.  So be sure to ask your agent what certification(s) they hold. Or to deal with a CLIA Accredited Cruise Counselor who also holds top certifications from Cunard, Princess, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Celebrity, Azamara Club Cruises, InnerSea Discoveries, and American Safari Lines, and several others, give us a call, we are happy to help you pick the right cruise.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Sports and other Competitions aboard the Ships

Cruising is a great way to get away from all the cares of daily life at home. However all aspects of home are not lost while on vacation. Aside from lots of good food, you can participate in many sporting events while on the cruise. Some of these are individual sports while others are team sports. These sporting activities can be just for the fun of it or competitive in tournaments that last just a couple hours or thru the entire cruise.

Often there will be shuffleboard tournaments, mini-golf tournaments, table tennis tournaments, volleyball tournaments, and at times dodge ball tournaments. To some extent what is offered is partly based on the demographics of the passengers aboard the cruise. I find on cruises with younger overall populations the team competitions are more intense and frequent.

On Royal Caribbean in particular I’ve seen competitions for speed climbing the rock wall as well as surfing competitions. Rock walls are aboard all of their ships while the “flow-riders” are only on Freedom Class and larger ships.  Allure and Oasis are equipped with two each allowing one to be just for stand-up riding with the other dedicated to lay down surfing. (I really enjoyed it when I tried it in July 2011.)

Aside from the physically demanding sports competitions you will find other competitions aboard the ships. One where you will often find many are trivia competitions. Often they are a great place to meet other cruisers.  Aside from trivia there may be sign making contests, karaoke contests and many other ways for both individuals and teams to win particular events.  These are all set up to be fun for both the participants and spectators. Karaoke in particular is set up to be entertaining for large gatherings of people, not just the participants.

The competitions are typically all free to enter and often have trinket prices given to the winners.  Thus, it is worth trying one out yourself and seeing if you really enjoy them. When you find one you like, use it as an ice breaker on future cruises to meet someone new.