Sep 032018
 

Cruise destination vacations are one of the most popular ways people choose to spend their off time and for good reasons.

Variety:

There is no end of entertainment, activities and food options. In one place you can watch a broadway show, try Pina Colada soup, go gambling, get a massage, watch a movie under the stars, learn about a culture,shoot down a waterslide, play mini golf and enjoy wine tasting all in one day! Or lay around and do nothing. Everybody loves choices. This is especially true for families or multi generational travelers. My boys like the dance clubs, waterslides, laser tag, etc. I like the water slides but I want to see art, sip champagne and lay in a lounge chair and have a pool boy bring me food. On a cruise you really can have it all.

Ease Of Travel:

Unpack once and done. Also, if you are going to go on excursions someone picks you up and drops you off (mostly) and one of my favorite things about cruising is that I can see multiple countries without having to deal with the logistics of getting there. If I find a place I love I can plan a vacation to go back there for a longer visit.

Escapism:

Being on vacation is largely about getting away from it all and it’s hard to feel more away from everyday life than being on a cruise! Limited WiFi (although that is changing) the open sea, no cars or interstates, no fast food chains. A cruise becomes a community seperate from the rest of the world; whether you are on river or ocean cruise,  whether the ship is big or small.

Being Out To Sea For Days On End! 

Well, duh! Enough said.

On the other hand, most new cruise ships are HUGE! Giant floating resorts that hold 5,000 people, 20 decks, tiny cabins, looonnng waits for the elevators and almost too much going on at any one time. It can be intimidating. I have been lucky enough to sail on many types of vessels; sightseeing sail boats, ferries, old fashioned  pirate ships, whale watching ships, catamarans, canoes; you get the idea but I still love ocean cruising the most and have learned some things through trial and error (mostly error) that I have jotted down and I hope they help you get the most from your next cruise. If you prefer a more intimate sea faring experience there are still plenty of options for you to get the vacation you want and I believe these tips still hold value.

  1. Be Organized. This will help you from the planning stages all the way through to disembarkation. Being organized will help you be efficient as well. Start with must haves. Documentation is the single most thing you need. Passports, Visas, your boarding pass, id etc. Have a safe and easy to reach place for these things. Call the bank to let them know you are traveling, making sure you have enough medications for the entire trip, have a hard copy of all your shore excursion and/or reservations.  I make a checklist and put reminders on my phone for things I know need to do. Like the online check in. Doing the online check in helps you get through the line faster. You will have your boarding pass, you will know your boarding time, you can alert the ship to any food allergies, special occasions. You can reserve shore excursions, specialty dining and spa packages. The site will let you know any luggage restrictions as well as information about drink packages. For Carnival if you pre-buy your drink packages and wifi you get a discount. You can also find deck plans and a list of what amenities the ship has.
  2. How to pack smarter. This is a hard one for me, and a lot people probably. I have learned how to roll my clothes tight, to put my necklaces through a straw, put my socks and belts in my shoes and the value of ziploc bags and most important, not to overpack. When you travel you know you are going to buy things anyway; so don’t pack half of what you own. It’s another of those checklist things. Am I going hiking? So I need good shoes and bug spray and sunscreen; do I need a cute new hat and a special “hiking shirt”? No, I do not. Shop early for travel size toiletries too. Those can be pre packed. Anti bacterial wipes and air freshener for that tiny bathroom are must haves. Don’t forget that your bags get taken to your room and you don’t go to your room for a while sometimes for better than an hour. We always have a small backpack with our bathing suits and sunscreen because the pools are open. The only things that aren’t open right away is the Casino and the shopping. So keep a easy to carry bag with you while you wait to go to your room, esp. if you have medications you have to take. I also keep a water thermos with me so I can refill up water whenever I want. Bottled water on a cruise ship is not free on most major lines. The last night of your cruise you are required to leave your luggage outside the door so it can be prepped for disembarkation.  Keep things you need with you in the morning in a small bag, just like when you first board the ship.
  3. Shop around for Shore Excursions. I love saving money! Who doesn’t right? For this reason I start shopping around for shore excursions  early. First, go on the cruise lines website and see what they sell and how much it costs then do your own research and see if you can get the same thing for less. There are a few things to keep in mind and the most important one is to make sure the vendor you are booking with is reputable! Get customer reviews, call them if your can, find real pictures not the ones on the website. Make sure the excursion includes all costs and if they will pick you up and take you back to port and how long it is. For the most part we book our own, there are times booking with the ship is a good idea.  If the excursion is far from port, lasts a long time or is in a truly exotic port. Also, if the cruise line specializes in that particular city or if the excursion comes with risks, i.e. helicopter tours, parasailing or float planes. Cruise lines will put your safety above all else and they vet the vendor so you don’t have too. While we were in Cabo we had to tender to port and I booked the excursion with the cruise line because I got to be on one of the 1st tender boats off the ship, it saved me a ton of time. Other than that I book my own especially if I am staying close to port or just hitting the beach or shopping.

    Port Cities offer Traditional Performances.

  4. Know yourself. Being on vacation can be liberating! A chance to unwind and try new things and you absolutely should! But, you are still you at the end of the day. If you can’t walk 3 miles at home don’t plan a 8 mile hike; you won’t have any fun. If you don’t like musicals don’t go to the theater for a 45 minute musical show. Prone to seasickness? Maybe don’t book a cabin on the very front on a high deck, and don’t book a guaranteed cabin if you are picky about where you sleep! You will most likely be disappointed. Not a gambler? No problem, go to the spa. I didn’t book a Mayan Ruins tour because it was going to be 98 degrees that day and I am not into a group tour listening to a guide, I went to the beach came back early and hit the pool. The ship was not crowded and it was great. I do try new foods and new activities but I know my limits. Well, sort of. I did try to hit the party deck on NCL’s Getaway every night, which I am not really cut out for and the last day slept until 11am. Oh well, it was probably worth it.
  5. Watch the upsell. There are things on a cruise line that are not free, such as drinks, spa treatments, specialty dining. There is always someone trying to get you to buy more things.  So you have to know what is free and what isn’t before you go. The ship planner will let you know what food is included and what isn’t. A lot of cruise lines will offer discounts on specialty dining if you book the 1st night or will offer a lunch menu for a reduced rate versus the regular night time fare. Drink specials abound as well; again check the planner for drink coupons, happy hours, go to the art auction for free champagne, listen for what shop offers free mimosas, look for the bartender shows and events you can score free or reduced drinks. Same thing for Captains Dinner. For the spa book treatments on port days because the cost for the same thing is reduced on days the ship is docked.  If you are big drinker or want to book a week at the spa pre buy at your online check in or the 1st day on the ship. Again, check out the package specials on the website first and make sure you read up on what is included in your package and what is not. Departing out of TX? Your drink package does not apply til the next day. You can still buy alcohol but it is limited and must be in compliance with TX state law, New York has similar laws. If you are booked in a suite or are lucky enough to have booked a special fare that includes drinks, or even better, are able to afford a luxury cruise line or a river cruise this would not apply to you. Good job and drink on!
  6. The Ship Planner is your best friend:  It is always in your cabin and you get a new one each day. In it you will find all the activities, when they start, what they are, what deck they are on and a brief description. It will give you schedules for shows, guest lectures, and any drink specials. Basically, anything you need to know not only about the ship but the ports of call. Times you will be in port, some points of interest and what time you need to be back on board. The planner makes a great souvenir.
  7. Maximize your time. Be early, but know that you will board by sections. If you have a suite you will board earlier or if have a certain loyalty status; or for Carnival you can pay for a “Faster to the Fun” pass. Book those early, spaces are limited and they sell out fast. When you first board you can go to the pool, eat and drink and check out the specialty dining and get a good feel for the ship.; but you can’t shop or gamble. If you can book a later flight off the ship I would highly recommend it! The cruise line will assign you a disembarkation time but if you are asking to leave later I have never been turned down for changing time to later. I sleep in and have leisurely breakfast, and walk the promenade one last time. It’s pretty nice, and it makes disembarkation a little less hectic because the people in a hurry have already left.

    Water taxis will take you around Cabo for some great photo opportunities

  8. Ships have personalities. Not all ships nor cruise line are created equal. If you are looking for longer times in port or more authentic experiences? Azamara, Windstar and Regent are among some of the top ones and usually are very inclusive-and extremely expensive! Princess and Oceania are a good mid price option. The reason is simple. The more time they are in port the less money off the guest, but with the higher end cruise lines the client expects more. If you are looking for jam packed itinerary and endless entertainment and food options, try Royal Caribbean and Norwegian and the newer MSC ships. These ships are floating cities. Are you a culinary explorer? Celebrity cruises sweeps accolades from cruise critic. Viking gets top marks in the small ship category. Check out this link from an earlier post I wrote about cruise ship personalities. https://roamingredfeather.com/2018/04/17/how-to-find-the-right-cruise-vacation-fit/
  9. Don’t be afraid to ask for more. At the dining room you will get a menu offering a 3 to 4 course meal. Don’t be afraid to be ask for 2nds, or 2 appetizers or desserts. When we were on Carnival the ship was sold out and my boys (teenagers at the time) got 3 servings of lobster and we each got 2 desserts. On NCL my husband couldn’t decide between 2 appetizers so she brought both.  We have even had a waiter go to a different bar to get a drink I really wanted. Remember, this is a courtesy and not normally allowed. The staff will generally do whatever they can do to make you happy, but please, ask, don’t demand and understand if they can’t. For most ships room service is free but some cruise lines charge a  delivery fee. The daily planner will include any charges. The staff work very hard with almost no days off for way less than we would ever be paid; so don’t hesitate to ask for what you want but be always be nice and tip generously or give good reviews or both.

Fun Facts:

  • Your cabin is magnetic. Carry on some magnets and you can stick your cruise planner, coupons, notes, etc to the wall.
  • Some cruise lines offer extended stays that include hotels, sometimes meals, day trips and transfers to the ship. For example, Princess offers many opportunities to extend your Alaska vacation.
  • Set dining times are a thing of the past. While most cruise lines still have the set dining times almost all offer a flexible dining time where you can go to dinner wherever and whenever you want. This is one of my favorite things. If I wanted a schedule set for me I would have stayed at work.
  • You can get married on board. Cruises are romantic and cruise lines offer a fair variety of options and budgets. Some of the most popular ones are Princess and P&O Cruises.
  • Cruise ships have a jail. Okay, so maybe this one isn’t fun, but it is important to know. Security and safety on a cruise ship is very important. So behave or get sent to the brig until you get to the next port or to the home port where you will be handed over to the port authority.
  • Your ship may leave without.  Yes, I know, not fun either. I am really off track now, sorry; but still important. If you are late coming back after the ship schedule says you need to be back be prepared to be stranded. Especially if you didn’t book with the ship. If you booked a tour with the ship and something happens-i.e. the tour bus breaks down the ship will wait for you, but that is about the only reason.
  • Look under the bed. Ship cabins are not very spacious but you can usually find extra storage under the bed.
  • The water is filtered. I love ice cold water but I don’t want to pay for bottle water; I don’t see the point. I pack a stainless steel water bottle and there are water stations all over the ship. The water is filtered under the regulations of America and Europe.

Disney is premium product that is worth the cost. Book early and don’t expect a casino or alcohol packages. Do expect outstanding service and attention to detail.

Cruise Critic is one of my favorite sites for reviews of ships, destinations, ports, excursions and whole array of useful tips. Plus, you can find a page called Roll Call it lets you talk to other passengers on your specific cruise. You just have join and enroll it’s easy and free and very useful. You will have friends before you even start. https://www.cruisecritic.com/

You can also click on my travel agent Expedia Website to see some cruise options out there. You can search by date, destination, cruise line etc. https://www.cruiseshipcenters.com/en-US/RhondaWeaver

Happy Sailing and as always another insights or tips or stories you have learned the hard way are always welcome.

Jul 232018
 

The world is an amazing and wonderful place and exploring the globes four corners is a grand adventure! There is so much to see and do and discover. However, there are also many things that we do as Americans that aren’t grand or wonderful in other parts of the world.  So the next time you make that list of necessities add “learn the culture!” to that list. If you can let the locals know how much you appreciate their customs and traditions the more you will get out of your travels.

What Not to do: 

  • Sportswear, exercise wear and baseball caps are no no’s in Japan and most of Europe. It’s too bad, I love my yoga pants. And, please, for the love of all that is Holy don’t EVER wear any type of pj’s out for ANY reason! Just no. In South Korean men even wear t-shirts to the beach; as a visitor you are not expected to keep covered up at the beach, but I would. When in Rome is how the saying goes.
  • Tipping. In America the standard for tipping is at least 15% in Japan and South Korea tipping is in an insult. It insinuates that they are not earning a fair wage. Australia is another country that doesn’t expect a tip but it is becoming more common at high end resorts.  Most Europeans, if they tip, it’s just a few coins. That being said, dining abroad is a much more leisurely endeavor. Don’t rush your server and don’t expect them to come check you often.
  • Forget the condiments. I love to try the local fare! It’s one of the best parts of travel. Many countries take great pride in their food. When sampling the yummy goodness of Spain, Italy, Japan and France(you knew that one was coming) do not expect condiments and please don’t ask for them; is it very rude. This includes adding soy sauce or hot sauce. Which is a staple for most Americans but is bad manners in many countries.  Also, in Portugal asking for salt and pepper is offensive to your host. So please be polite and refrain.

  • No PDA. Not many surprises here.  In China, Thailand, Korea and the Middle East communicate your love and affection for your partner with your eyes, no touching; not even holding hands. In India people of the opposite sex are not allowed to touch each other in public, even if they are married. These rules seem like a bummer but they should absolutely be followed and respected.  Speaking of India and touching; if you touch a product, guess what, you just bought it! They won’t take it back. Same goes for New Delhi.
  • Don’t be late. This is kind of a given. There are some countries where it is a bigger slap in the face than others, Germany is a prime example. Other places to make sure you are prompt in are Japan and South Korea. Asian countries are very big on respect! Showing up late is a way of saying that your time is more valuable than theirs. There are some places that are more laid back about time. Which I appreciate when I am vacation! Greece, Argentina-most of Latin America really, Mexico, Morocco and Malaysia are places where you won’t get dirty looks for not being punctual.
  • Watch those feet! In Asian and Caribbean cultures it is expected to take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. Keep those tootsies clean since you will be showing them off! It’s a good excuse to have a whole heap of fun colored socks. For Middle Eastern countries it is UNACCEPTABLE  to show the soles of your feet.  Feet are the lowest part of your body and are generally considered dirty.

Things that Make You go Hmmm!?!?

  • Watch those gestures. Thumbs up, the okay hand signal, one hand in your pocket; all of these are so incredibly offensive! In Latin America, Western Africa, Middle East, Greece, Russia and Italy the thumbs up signal translates to “up yours” and that just isn’t nice! Visiting Turkey or  South Korea? Don’t put one hand in your pocket. it’s sign of arrogance. The “ok” sign is not okay at all in Latin America, the Middle East, Western Africa, Russia and Greece. While visiting Malaysia, Indonesia or Africa don’t point at things, and never at people. Be classy and cool Roamers!
  • Welcome to Australia: Here, have some insecticide disinfectant. It’s true. You and your belongings can expect to be meet with a thorough coating of insecticide.  Nothing makes a person feel more welcome than a healthy dose of disinfectant. Don’t take it personally, it’s not you, it’s them. If you need to know about it check out this link.https://abcnews.go.com/Travel/story?id=118829&page=1
  • Ice cold water? Ice in your drink? Don’t count on it! Europe is an amazing place, the architecture especially; at least in my opinion. It can get really hot and I don’t like the heat and when I walk a lot I get so incredibly thirsty! I love icy cold drinks but in most restaurants you can expect drinks to be room temperature and don’t be surprised if, when you ask for ice to get the death stare. France, especially.  My Mom and Dad lived in the Bahamas for six months after retirement and they both found it odd that milk is not refrigerated. Yeah, ditto here. I find it odd, but again, embrace the new. I found out I like pina colada soup which is also an odd thing.
  • Coffee Italian style:  Italy has very particular ideas about coffee. Milk based coffee in only part of the morning routine and never after a meal. Awww; that one makes me sad! I love coffee after dinner! If you feel you must at least apologize to the bartender. Don’t call it Espresso and understand that most Italians have shots of coffee not a triple vente. My sister said everyone ordered shots, downed it and left. Very different from here.  Depending on the region you are in keep the order simple. Naples and Milan are more agreeable to us complicated coffee connoisseurs.
  • Call shotgun. Cabs are a great resource when getting around in a foreign country, but unlike in the U.S. there are places where if you  are travelling solo or are a male and hop in the back you are just a schmuck. Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, parts of Ireland and the Netherlands are all countries that it expected for you to ride shotgun. I like that idea. It’s better to talk to someone if you are sitting side by side.
  • No one stop shopping. I have a LONG list of vitamin and mineral supplements that I take daily as well as a few medications. Fortunately, I can pick all those up when I buy dinner, buy dog food, etc. That is an American thing however. In England, for example, the pharmacy is a pharmacy, period. Most things we are use to such as large portioned meals, 24 hours restaurants, free refills, being super fans of cheerleaders are considered bizarre by many countries.
  • Let’s hang out at the cemetery. In Denmark it is pretty common to see people throw down a blanket and read a book or just hang with friends in the cemetery. Sure, why not.

Bring on the Color!

Now that Sounds Fun! 

Who doesn’t love  a good festival? It’s a giant party where everyone is invited. Everyone is your friend, yet you don’t have to really know anyone. Some are well known. Flag throwing in Tuscany, Carnival in Rio De Janeiro, the Lantern Festival of  Thailand and the Day of the Dead in Mexico. But there are some that I had never heard of that sound amazing!

    • Holi: India, Pakistan and Nepal. Actually, I have heard of this one, but I had  to bring it up because it is on my bucket list in a BIG way! It marks the beginning of the Hindu spring and it a street party where people throw colored powder on each other! Holi is a nationwide celebration that is observed in all 28 states and symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. It starts at night with a bonfire. This year it began on March 1st. Hint: put on plenty of moisture, it helps to keep the color from staining the skin and is easier to remove. Bright colors are better for the colors to be seen. Also, be a good person and bring your dyed powder.
    • Smigus Dyngus Day: A Polish Easter holiday steeped in history and tradition that ends up as a giant free for all street water fight. And I am definitely on board with that! If you can’t make it to Poland there are States here in the U.S. that partake in this watery festival. Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo, NY and South Bend, Indiana are the biggest party destinations for day filled of water blaster fights. If those places aren’t on you preferred travel list then jet over to Thailand for the Songkran Festival that is the Thai New Year. Bring a towel and water proof  shoes and embrace the fun!
  •  
    • Harbin Snow and Ice Festival: Harbin, China. I have to be really honest and say China is not one of top 10 places to visit. I don’t like crowds, or the heat or the food-not a whole lot, anyway, but this festival seems like a mind blower! I would go there JUST to see this! It officially opens on Jan.  5th but there are some activities that begin on December 17th. http://www.harbinice.com/fact-v43-the-35th-harbin-ice-and-snow-festival-2019.html
    • White Nights and Scarlet Sails: St. Petersburg, Russia. This is the largest public event in the country and celebrates the season of the Midnight Sun. It is an international arts festival with emphasis on ballet, opera and musical performances that culminates in the Scarlet Sails celebration and an impressive fireworks display. It’s a crush with about 1 million attendees so be prepared to lose your sense of personal space.
    • Lopburi Monkey Buffet: Lopburi, Thailand. Every year on Nov 25th-my birthday- the city sets out a HUGE outdoor buffet for monkeys and they just help themselves. It was created to bring in tourists and it works really well! It was even covered by National Geographic. So kudos. If any of you have ever been please share your thoughts and experience.

Did You Know? 

  • In the UK the Skittles purple candy in black currant not grape.
  • The beautiful handmade ceramics you buy in Mexico should not be used for food and beverage storage because the paint can have a high lead content.

I love the hand painted ceramics in Mexico, just not for food storage

  • In France you should always greet your server or cashier before asking for anything or paying.  It is expected to say goodbye as you leave as well.
  • America is about the only country that cards people who are obviously over 21 before serving them alcohol.
  • Receiving gifts is great but in Asia please remember not to open them in front of the giver.

There is no way to cover everything about this topic in one post. For anyone that has other tips or experiences please share. Maybe it could be a bi weekly post, just for fun.

Now this is my idea of a great party!
Mar 092018
 

For many years, Cuba was a no go zone for Americans. Happily, now it is not! Cuba is steeped in history, culture, charm and pristine beaches. The absolute best way to get the most bang for you buck in Cuba is to cruise. 

First of all, Cuba is having a hard time keeping up with the demand of people flocking to their country. Hotels are not abundant and tend to be expensive. Even the best ones (some, not all) have electrical and plumbing issues.  After a long day at the port it’s nice to have a hot shower, comfortable bed and a sprawling buffet or restaurant 24/7. Of course, you should try the local fare; there is much debate on whether Cuban food is good, but you should still try it. However, the cruise ship has an array of different restaurants and is usually 24/7. Also, you won’t find any fast food staples-not a bad thing, but it makes it hard to grab a quick bite.  You can bring packaged snack food and drinks off the ship.  Here is some really great news. Now, you can bring back Cuban cigars and rum! These items are subject to custom regulations, of course, and there is a value cap for both. So, know before you buy.


Cuba is a clean place, but because they don’t emissions regulations like in the U.S. and most European countries smog from car exhaust is a common complaint. It’s great to get back on your ship with the nice clear sea air!

Visas are required as well as affidavits stating that you are meeting 1 of the 12 categories to travel to Cuba. The cruise line will take care of your Visa paperwork-the cost is $75.00 and they can help you fill out the self proclamation paperwork, as well any excursions booked by the cruise line already meet the requirements set by the government. The cruise offers decent tour options instead of just one or two that are by land tour operators. They also helps with the conversion rate, less headache for you. The exchange rate in Cuba to U.S. dollars is brutal. Change USD for Euros or pounds or even Canadian dollars before changing it to the local CUC.

You only have to unpack once. Cuba has 3 main ports: Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.  With a longer cruise you could hit 2 or all 3 ports, many lines offer overnights in Havana. The more exclusive ones offer longer stays, more overnights and more port options, but are more expensive. Plus, it is easier (and more enjoyable) to cover more ground. The infrastructure in Cuba is not idyllic. For example, a drive from Havana to Santiago de Cuba can take up to 22 hours. A cruise ship view of Cuba is relaxing and beautiful.

Morro Castle in Havana is an old fort.

It’s cheaper. Cuba cruises are more expensive that other Caribbean cruises, but overall, less expensive than a land vacation comparing apples to apples: Hotel, transportation, food, entertainment, etc. Currently, availability for a cruise is actually better than a hotel; that’s partially because of the lack of hotels and places for guests to stay.

Some of the best things about Cuba are it’s people, food, culture and history. Cuba has very low crime and not a lot of litter and pollution. It is truly a great place to fee like you are away and can unplug.  Lack of commerce means lack of Starbucks, fast food chains, shopping malls, and tons of vendor booths. Lack of WiFi and cell phone reception add the feeling of being off the grid, which is not a bad thing. Unlike most of the Caribbean, Cuba lacks pushy vendors and touristy traps, but they are there. They are very polite and usually take a polite “No, thank you” for an answer. You will street artists and performers who will want money. If you tip-and you should, again do not use U.S. dollars, the locals can not get any real value due to the fees. Local currency is best. The beaches tend not to be as crowded as other countries in the Caribbean and are quite pristine.

Keep in mind, our ties with Cuba may change at any time. The threat of travel being restricted or cut off entirely is there. President Trump has declared U.S. Citizens are not allowed to dine at State sponsored restaurants; don’t know how you would know if a restaurant is or isn’t.  As of now, the cruise industry to Cuba is growing. Keep in mind, Cuba is more expensive than Caribbean cruises and does not have as many travel dates either.

A few last tips. Bring tissue, water, snacks, hand sanitizer and, surprisingly, toilet paper. This is still a communist country and such things even in restaurants are not always in supply. Some people said that met locals who, they thought were asking for money, instead wanted soap and common toiletries. Brush up on your Spanish, at least the basics. Since being a fun seeking tourist is not among the list of 12 approved reasons to visit Cuba, you are advised to keep you travel papers for 5 years.

That being said, Cuba is unique and wonderful, and you should go, especially now, while you still can and while it is still a relaxed, a call to past, not an over run Caribbean destination. Roam forth and have fun!

Dec 132017
 

Plane flying in the sunset. Aviation rules, passport, domestic

Beginning Jan. 22nd 2018 you will need an Enhanced Drivers License (EDL) to fly domestically.  The original Real ID Act was passed in 2005, but the cost to all 50 states and the US Territories are so high that even with the deadline ahead, states are still being granted extensions until Oct 2020. Several states are still fighting these regulations because of the cost and some feel that it violates the 10th amendment.

The states that will have affected by the Jan 22nd deadline are: KY, ME, MN, MO, MT, OK, PA, SC and WA.  If you have a passport or already have the EDL-which are MI, MN, NY, VT and WA.  You can use that. Visit TSA.GOV that has a list of other documents you can use flying domestically. This Act does not affect international flights or cruises.  According to the TSA site a Military ID and Permanent Resident card are also acceptable.

I have visited many sites and some are confusing. Your best bet is to visit TSA.Gov or Homeland Security website for all the latest updates. The site will let you know which ones are compliant and which states and U.S. Territories have extensions.

I live in Washington and although we have the Enhanced Drivers License not everyone has them, so if you live in a state that offers the EDL make sure you know that you have the right one. Washington is not the only state that issues both State id’s. So just because you live in Washington or Vermont don’t assume your i.d. is compliant.

Check with your DMV to see when your state is going to roll out the EDL and how much it will cost. The Real ID Act will affect immigrants especially. If an immigrant does not have a social security card or an proof of entry they will not be able to get the EDL. The Real Id Act does include all US Territories, including Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico.

However, several states are trying to pass legislation to oppose the real id act. Not only because of the cost, but also because the data collected will most likely be held in a central data base, as would finger prints and facial recognition.  I would expect the fight over these regulations will continue.

But, for your own traveling peace of mind, do your homework. Know what you need, or better yet, get a passport.

Knowledge is important and the rules always change. So, Roamers, be aware and happy travelling!

 

 

 

Oct 222017
 

Keep clothes tightly rolled and only pack what fits easily.

Over packing is trap that most of us have fallen into more than once. I believe it is a mentality that is some part of our psyche. Like when your are taking your young children anywhere they have a basic need to take half their things just to feel secure. Blankets, 4 toys, 2 changes of clothes, 5 snacks, drink cups; it goes on and on.  As travelers, we have that urge to attach our identity and comfort with objects.  So, how can you overcome it? Be organized and focused!

  • Focus on Logistics: Fight the urge to pack outfits and jewelry; that should be done later. Start your vacation planning off with things you can and should do early. Do you have the right travel documents? Do you have all your reservation confirmations? Are you stocked up on medications, bug sprays, ear plugs? Have you squared away your excursions? Have a digital and physical copy of all these things. Make a list of things that HAVE to be done and a time line to have them done by.
  • Do your research: Research where you are going. What kinds of things do you want to do? Are there festivals or events? Book tours, find online reviews by people who have been there. What is the exchange rate/where is the best place to get local currency? Read up on local customs and history, local hot spots and must try foods.
  • Keep a budget. You probably already have a travel budget, add a clothing/jewelry/shoe budget to the mix. There is nothing I like better than new outfits when I travel. It’s amazing! So, to keep my addiction in check I write down a budget and item limit on paper and treat in like a Commandment!

 

  • Learn packing hacks. Pinterest has many great ideas for making the most of you packing space. Find the best spill proof bottles to bring smaller portion of your beauty products. Some of the best sites are Trip Savvy and Choosy Traveler and Armchair Empire.com. If you can use the freebies from your hotel or cruise ship, do so.  I have freakishly sensitive skin and Merida type hair but the complimentary shampoo, hand lotion, toothpaste and toothbrushes are good enough. So figure what items you can use that are freebies so that you don’t have to pack and buy them.
  • Clothes: So now here we are; the moment of truth. Gather all the clothes, shoes and jewelry you plan on packing.  Now get rid of half of it. No cheating! Do it! There are some ways to make it less painful. 1) Pick a color palette. I usually end up with green, blue and brown. It’s easier to pack less if most of your items go together. 2) Use accessories wisely. A scarf and  cardigan can change a look without having to have h whole new one.  3)Think about the usefulness of your choices. If you have a 5 day cruise with 1 formal night do you need 3 formal dresses? If you are spending 2 days hiking and 1 night in a nice hotel do you need 3 pairs of  glittery spiked heels?

This advice may seem harsh but having less really is more and you can focus on having fun not figuring which of your 7 purple sundresses to wear to a show.

So, fellow Roamers, find your inner packing guru and go have fun!

 

 

 

 

Oct 132017
 

Things go wrong when you are on vacation. It’s inevitable. No matter how well you plan or research, the unexpected will happen.

When we took our first cruise, it was to Alaska. It was a graduation present for my oldest son when he graduated from High School. It was expensive and a big deal. My husband and I met in Alaska; I really wanted our family to have the best time. I called Carnival directly, told the agent that it was our first cruise and I wanted to know everything. I trusted her to be the expert. Turned out thanks to her misinformation, we were there only an hour before the cruise ship left port-so almost missed it. We were the 2nd to the last family to get there. Of course, we missed the Bon Voyage party, didn’t know we should have had a beach bag with a change of clothes. We had checked all of our bags in, so for 2 and a half hours, we got to watch hundreds of people run around the pools and go down the water slides while we hung out in the buffet in our jeans and heavy shirts.

At that point, I felt like a terrible Mom, and I really wanted to stab that Carnival rep in the eye with my fork ( A slight exaggeration, very slight), but I really did stress about how could I save this vacation?

The cruise was a great family vacation in the end. My two teenage boys got seconds and thirds at every meal, we saw the most amazing glaciers, we met some great people. The entertainment was top notch. We saw over 10 baby eagles, took a speedboat ride, went hiking on an amazing mountain and my boys still talk about the cruise to this day.

When my sister and her husband went to Europe with their 6-year-old daughter they planned everything for over a year. My sister is a meticulous planner-her and her husband spent about 3 months deciding on their first couch. She loves research more than I do. Their first night in Paris, their apartment was across the street from an Irish pub, Irelands soccer team had won the Euro Cup. So there was a drunken party outside the apartment til 3 am. Rowdy singing, minor damage to property, a couple fires, people peeing in the street. The good news was my young niece learned some Irish party songs and wasn’t upset; at least not until 10 pm when she couldn’t sleep.  While they were in Italy, she got a concussion and they had to take her to the hospital. That’s not what they remember most about the trip though.  It was the beauty and architecture and and culture of Europe.

On our last cruise to Cabo, we took a tour on a glass bottom boat.  We were on the dock, waiting for the other passengers to get off when an older gentleman started lost his footing and started to fall. Our guide and my husband grabbed for the guy. They saved him from falling into the bay, but I saw a wallet fall into the water. Assuming it was Davids-my husband-I jumped down to grab it. Landed on my knees, leaned forward, missed the wallet and my glasses fell off and dropped into the Sea of Cortez. Turned out the wallet was the other guys. Luckily, there was a young kid there who jumped in a found my glasses. Cost me $20.00, and my both my knees were scraped bloody. We were only taking the tour because our snorkeling tour was canceled due to bad weather. I did get to see Los Arcos up close and some beautiful tropical fish; well sort of, there was a salty film on my glasses till I got back to the ship.

I have worked the last two years as part of a travel agency and know that people stress when things go wrong. Some reasons are just silly. A guy wanted to cancel his cruise because he couldn’t get the 6pm dining on his online check-in, someone said their cruise the worst he had ever taken because during the muster station drill they didn’t get to try on the life vest. Some, I understand, a guy booked a cabin for his honeymoon online and it turned out he booked a bunk bed cabin. Major Oops. Here is a hint, on Carnival cruise lines a 1A  is a bunk bed, only on Carnival though.

Some years ago, my mom took my sister and me on a vacation to Cancun for her birthday. I did weeks of research for the best hotel, made so many charts and lists. I am glad I did, we got a beautiful hotel and had an amazing time. But, it wasn’t perfect. It rained for 2 days, we paid for laundry service, but they neglected to tell us the dryers were broken so we got back a bag full of wet clothes.  We decided to go shopping early-too early; we were there a full hour before anything opened. Oops. 

I am a big believer in research and planning, but the reality is, vacations are a lot like life-things just happen. Other times, like with the Carnival cruise agent, the people who should be the experts don’t give the right information. So here is my best advice.

  1. Use more than 1 resource. Check,  check and recheck. I like to use Trip Advisor for best rated and Cruise Critic for cruises. Also, friends and family who have been to these places and taken these trips are your best bet. You know them,you trust them.
  2. Know what you HAVE to have. Document, reservation numbers, passports, photo id’s, directions; those sorts of things. Keep hard copies of any confirmation numbers, phones die or reception spotty, esp. in foreign countries.
  3. Have basic knowledge of the area and customs. If you are going cave tubing in Belize, make sure you have good walking shoes and be prepared to take the trek. In Japan, don’t leave tips. In Chile, don’t eat with your hands. Don’t call someone by their first name in Kenya and don’t get drunk in Turkey.
  4. Be smart about packing. Make a list of must haves. Such as medications, lip balm, waterproof totes, bug spray,etc.
  5. Keep perspective. All the vacations I have taken have always been good in the long run, even if it’s not something out of travel promo. Focus on the good. Take lots of pictures and bring back mementos for friends and family as gifts; it helps keep your focus on the fun!
  6. Buy travel insurance. Life happens, usually at the worst times. Nothing will ruin a trip more than if you get hurt on vacation or your luggage gets lost or your flight get cancelled. This is a very important one and I advise you to look into trip protection. Check the under writer for you credit card. Some credit cards have some built in protections.

The most important thing is to relax and go with the flow. Vacations bring surprises and that can be a good thing. You could end up being part of a comedy improv show, become part of a 70’s deck party or discover you love pina colada soup or even see Darth Vader play the violin!

Jun 092017
 

We all want our cruise vacation to be amazing and we want that from the very beginning. So, to start your vacation you want the transfer from the hotel or airport to be seamless and hassle free

Cruise lines do not pick you up from your hotel, unless you buy the land portion from the cruise line. Some hotels will bring you to the pier for a cost.  Other than that cruise lines sell transfers from the airport to the ship and back. You can do one way or round trip.  It can be expensive and a Lyft or Uber is usually cheaper. However, there are times paying for a transfer from the cruise line will be wise.  Also,  a transfer with the cruise line can give you peace of mind. Once you are on that bus it is up to them to get you to your ship on time.  If you take your own transportation and you break down or get lost, then wave goodbye to your ship as it sails off without you. Below are some other times a cruise line transfer is worth the cost.

 

 

  1. The cruise terminal is far from the airport.  If you’re cruising out of Rome, it’s about an hour. Both LAX and SEATAC (Seattle) are about 40 from Long Beach Pier and Smith Cove Pier. However, to hail a cab in both these airports you have to exit baggage claim and cross the street, plus both places have endless construction. Cruising out of Galveston Hobby Airport is 45 miles away, while Bush Intercontinental is 70 miles away. Flights get delayed too.
  2. You don’t get in very early. The ship wants you there 2-4 hours early. Everyone is expected to be on the ship 90 minutes before departure. On our last cruise we were only a 2 1/2 flight, but we got delayed by 45 minute. After landing we taxied around the tarmac for another 20 minutes waiting for  a gate to be ready for us. I’m talking about LAX, it was a zoo. I’m glad we took advice from other cruisers who have been there and paid for the transfer. It saved my butt!  The airport is not easy to get around, you have to go out of the terminal cross under the bridge and head out to the street. We  made the last transfer bus to the ship. It was great though. They took are luggage and brought right to the door; no waiting.
  3. You don’t know what to do with your luggage. A lot of airports like Miami International, LAX and Galveston do not offer storage lockers. If you have a transfer as part of your cruise you will go down to baggage claim and find you rep. there. They will take your checked bags  and you are free to go eat, shop, explore or whatever.  They will give you a time to be back. Most cruise lines require that you book your transfer at least 3 weeks before sailing. However, if there is room on the shuttle bus you can buy your transfer the day of the cruise. Just go down to baggage claim and ask.
  4. You just want the easiest option. You get to pull right up to the front, someone takes your luggage and away you go right into the terminal. Easy, breezy.   Well, there is still Customs, but there is nothing anyone can do about that.
  5. There is a large group of you. When coordinating a large party easier is usually better. A vacation is about relaxing, the logistics of getting everyone to the pier can be a headache.

Returning home: 

  1. There is not a lot of time between your disembarkation and your flight.  First of all, DON’T DO THIS! It put’s a lot of stress on you. Also, if your flight isn’t at LEAST 4 or 5 hours after disembarkation you won’t get your transfer. Remember, it takes  a while to get off your ship,  at least an hour; I would count on longer.
  2. You want to  be off the ship early.  If you don’t want to get off the ship with the masses, this in one option. You will have an earlier departure time and a separate  area to  wait.   Full disclosure, I have never done a transfer off. I want to sleep in and stay on as long as possible.
  3. You want to still feel a little pampered. It’s true. It’s easy and convenient.

Other than those reasons I would opt for your own ride. When got off at the Long Beach pier on our last cruise our Lyft driver was there in 25 minutes, got us to the ariport in about 35 minutes and only cost us $22.00.    We had a late flight, so I asked if we could be in the last group to get off the ship.  We slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, hung out on the aft deck and enjoyed the weather.

Arrive early to see the sites.
Chihuly Glass Garden in Seattle

Another option might be to plan an excursion post cruise. It’s usually early, like 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. but your luggage is taken care of while you do your tour and the return to the airport is included.

Saving money is important, but missing your cruise is a huge waste of money; and heartbreaking. So, choose wisely.