We are almost gone

IMG_1736This is a picture I took yesterday because I found these (photo above) when I was looking for something else that I wanted to take with us tomorrow when we fly to Edinburgh. What you are seeing is the SeaPass card (combo room key and onboard credit card for you non-cruisers) from every cruise we have ever taken (except the one on Carnival we don’t tell anyone about). Starting in the upper left with our first Alaskan cruise on the old Holland America Westerdam in 2000 all the way through out Fall Foliage cruise last October on Celebrity’s Summit. Those SeaPass cards represent a lot of great times with a lot of great people.

The trip we leave on tomorrow will include our 26th cruise. Not as many as many of our friends (including our buddy Seth who has taken more than 65 cruises) but we think it’s pretty good. This time we will be adding a SeaPass card from Celebrity’s Reflection headed from Dublin to Belfast, on to two ports in Iceland and then back to Cork and Dublin Ireland before we fly home. Before we ever get to the cruise we will be staying five nights in Edinburgh, six nights with our fellow Martini Mates, Paul and Gail in the Yorkshire region of England and then three nights pre-cruise in Dublin,. Lots of travel and that’s just how we like it.

We invite you to join us as I will try my best to (and since I won’t spend my entire days driving like I did in Arizona) post some pics and notes every day we are on the road. So come back here often and let us know what you think by commenting.

Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation, and a pinch of creativity.
—Bo Bennett

I just like being finished!

Frustration2I have this thing about finishing things. As we head towards flying to Europe next Monday I am beyond frustrated today. Whenever I am working toward a trip I make my huge list of things that I need to get done before we can go. Then I work my butt off to get those things done, crossing them off one after the other. But this week has been beyond exasperating. Every time I try and get something completed and off my plate, either I can’t because of something outside my control or more things keep showing up. It is beyond frustrating. Did I mention that already?

Ever since I can remember I have been this way. I hate starting projects that I know I won’t be able to finish with things within my control or in the time frame I have given myself. I guess I am the opposite of a procrastinator. It’s one of the reasons I have gotten so much enjoyment out of owning and running my own business. I set the timeframe on every project and I am the only one responsible for getting it done. When a client sends me stuff day after day to add to something I am doing for them, I want to strangle that person. Just give me everything at once and let me finish! A great example is my e-mail inbox (I have five of them). I feel totally accomplished when I empty them. But I have a friend who brags that he has more than 4,000 e-mails in his inbox. That would kill me!

Right now I am doing my best to redesign the website for our agency. I did it originally (the one that is online now) in Adobe Muse. But Adobe is killing Muse in a two years (DAMN YOU ADOBE!) and it isn’t possible for our agency owner to make changes or additions to the site without me doing it, so I am moving it to WordPress. But not the WordPress you are reading this in, the WordPress(.org) that let’s you download the software and install it on your own server. The one you are reading this post on right now is WordPress.com. You have to pay for this WordPress every year and we are trying to avoid that. Besides, I have my own server, why would I want to pay again to use another one.

So I went out and bought myself what looked like a great WordPress theme to use. It came with a promise of supreme tech support and total ease of use but so far, that hasn’t not been the case. Finished it all up (at least I thought I did) last Tuesday and showed it to our owner and we both agreed there were some little tweaks that needed to be done. Six of them to be exact. I wrote the tech support people (turns out to be one guy…in India) with those six questions. All pretty straight forward and waited. I am still waiting. The tech support guy has sent back basically the same e-mail every day. He says “tell me what you want done and I will do it.” Well I don’t want him to do it, I want to know how to do it so I can do it again later on or in other places on the site. But no, he just wants to fix it for me. And it’s simple stuff like being able to make a text a link in his theme template (which I can’t get into without coding) or making some text bold (which isn’t working—what the hell!) So, another project I  can’t finish. And I am not sure I will be able to finish it before I leave. And totally out of my control. Just some guy in tech support who obviously writes his own testimonials.

The only good part of my work life right now is that all my yearbook stuff is done. I mean DONE! That I can control. I can decide when a product or service I provide is finished. I can work forward and provide content through the day we return from the trip.

But on the travel side, I still have group cruises to work on, vacations and cruises to book for people and a lot of that is on hold as well. Thank God we don’t fly until Monday evening. My current goal is to be completely done with everything no later than Friday morning as we have some fun stuff planned with our local kids on Saturday and want to get Jayesh and Lisa over from next door one more time on Sunday. And maybe I should try packing someplace in there. YIKES!

Do not plan for ventures before finishing what’s at hand. —Euripides

Pack it up!

IMG_1717I just finished reading an online article about packing for travel. To be honest, it has been on my mind a lot lately. All because of one spot on our upcoming trip where I am seeing a possible problem. We leave for Edinburgh a week from Monday (May 20) and on Friday of that week we will be heading to York by train to visit some of our favorite people. That’s the day I am just not sure about. You see that morning I need to get us from a train platform into our seats on the train with our luggage. And I am still not sure how I am going to do that.

We travel with the following (see the photo): two checked bags (I know, don’t check bags—see below as to why I have to), two regular-size carry-ons and my camera/computer bag and whatever Kathleen is carrying as a purse or bag (this time a backpack, I think). When we get to Waverly Station in Edinburgh, I need to get those on to the train. Each of the checked bags weighs around 50  pounds. The carry-ons each weigh around 25 pounds. All are fairly big as you can see from the pic. My camera/computer bag weights in excess of 25 pounds.

I would love to do the minimalist packing thing. I hate schlepping bags (one of the reasons we cruise, so we can pack and unpack once) but we are about to leave on a month-long European trip that will hit four countries, 3 weeks on land and a cruise in there someplace. I am a fairly big guy (6’2″, 215 pounds) and wear size 13 shoes. I have big clothes and big shoes (nowhere near as big as my little brother’s) How do I pack for that long without a checked bag? I need shoes for evening wear and shoes for working out at a minimum. One pair of my shoes almost fills a standard carry-on. Even if I stuff them with socks and underwear, three weeks worth of my clothing just will not fit in a carry-on. All that and we think that this trip we may hit snow in June (Iceland) so I need boots as well along with sweaters and other cold weather clothing.

So someone can tell me how to get all this in a carry-on I would truly appreciate it but I have tried for years to do that and the closest I have come was way back when on our first couple of land trips to Italy and the UK when we did it with one checked bag and one carry-on. But that was before I was exercised crazed and could travel the entire of a country with one pair of shoes. It was also before part of every major trip was a cruise where I knew I would need more than jeans to have dinner. And it was before we went all over the place on trips that included stops in four different countries, including Iceland.

Lastly, YES, I have read the quote below and tried that method. On the last trip I brought back exactly three things I did not wear and all three were sweaters. Not my fault that it was almost 90 degrees in Portland, Maine in mid-October.

When you get back from a trip, make a note of what you didn’t wear. This will avoid packing it unnecessarily next time. —Robert Powell

We beat Costco

Not sure if you, my faithful readers, remember that I wrote a little diatribe about Costco a few weeks back. The company I love to shop but hate when they try and sell travel. If you missed, it you can CLICK HERE to read it

Now that you are back, I want to tell you how good yesterday felt. This all started two weeks ago when some friends from out of town who we had sailed with before (let’s call them Couple A) asked us to book a nice verandah stateroom for them. It’s on a cruise we are going on as well (Fort Lauderdale to Mardi Gras and the Western Caribbean in February 2020—want to come?).

We booked Couple A in a very nice 1A stateroom with two free perks (free gratuities and free WiFi) at a very good price. Then we invited some other folks we (us and Couple A) had both sailed with before. (Let’s call them Couple B.) They decided they wanted to go but informed me that they usually booked with Costco but would like me to get them a quote on pricing and perks. I did that for a few days but the pricing had changed since we booked Couple A. There had been an Expedia Group that we had been able to price Couple A into  and it was at a great price with two perks. But it was full.

Since it was late in April at this point, I told them some of the specials were expiring and that the pricing might be better in May. On Wednesday evening when we were in East Wenatchee visiting the kids, Couple B sent me an e-mail saying, “Don’t bother, we bought our cruise from Costco. We got a great deal.”

The next morning I got an e-mail from Couple A asking, “How much did we pay for our cruise? I lost the receipt you sent me. And did we get any free perks?” My first thought was, “Oh, no! They are going to cancel and book with Costco. Our mutual friends must have gotten a great deal.” I e-mailed them back and said as soon as I was back in the office on Saturday, I would send them all of that info. Which I did yesterday.

About 20 minutes after I sent them their pricing and perks, I got a call from the female half of Couple A. She told me that the female half of Couple B had been in contact and that she was kind of bragging about the “great price I got from Costco. They gave her two perks and a $1000 Costco gift card.” Our friends (Couple A) said they were pleasantly surprised to see that they  had the same two perks, $50 onboard credit from our office and were paying almost $3000 less than Couple B got from Costco!

I was elated. After losing sleep the night before worrying that they were cancelling, we (me, Kathleen and that Expedia CruiseShipCenters group we put couple A into) had beaten Costco hands down. And I truly loved that after we had discussed it on the phone I got a text from her as well saying, “Thanks again for all the help!!! You’ve made it easy!” That made my day! That’s why I am here. To make it easy. Found them the stateroom they wanted at a great price with great perks. It felt so good—to finally beat Costco.

The average American knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Don’t be average.”—my favorite quote. Not sure who said it but I have loved it since I first heard it. I think from the greatest motivational speaker ever, Zig Ziglar.

An app I love for pre-travel

We are about to take a big trip. I am sure you will hear much more about it in the next month and a half but it’s part of the reason I have been so bad at posting on a regular basis. I have been trying to get everything done I need to get done before we leave on May 20 when we will fly off to Edinburgh to start an almost month-long trip through the British Isles and a cruise to Iceland. Today I got into my favorite pre-travel app on my iPad.

We all have all kinds of apps for our iPhones and iPads that we love to use for travel, (I have more than 30 on my iPhone) but I have one I have been using pretty steadily for more than 10 years and I truly love it. Every time I use it religiously it works. If I forget to use it religiously, I forget things (like on our last cruise). My favorite pre-travel app is called Packing Pro.

Packing Pro is a super app that does more than remind of you what to take, but reminds you of all the things you need to take care of before you leave. Here’s a screen shot of the app with my favorite category open for our upcoming Scotland/England/Ireland/Iceland trip. As you can see it starts way before your trip with things like “Book cruise” and “Buy airline tickets.” When you are done with them, you can check them off. But the ones I love are the ones you don’t think about that often, like “Turn off the water to the washing machine” or “E-mail your neighbors (in our case Jayesh and Lisa).”IMG_3316

Another thing I love about the app is that when we are going to take a new trip, I can just clone a previous trip and start over. You just go in and change your quantities and categories based on the climate and duration. For instance on our Panama Canal Cruise on Infinity, I took a lot of shorts. On this upcoming trip, probably no shorts at all other than ones to workout and walk in.

They also give you some great categories to work with and you can add more if you like. The screen shot below are the ones that I use on a regular basis.

IMG_3315

So if you are looking for a great app to get you ready to travel whether it be a cruise, a land trip or just a short business excursion, Packing Pro is a great choice. When I went to get the link above I found that it was for sale today only for 99¢. That’s a great bargain because I am sure I paid at least $5.00 for it. And you can get it for your iPad, your iPhone and sync them as well as with your partner’s devices as well. And as Mr. Powell notes below, you can check with the app when you get back.

When you get back from a trip, make a note of what you didn’t wear. This will avoid packing it unnecessarily next time. —Robert Powell

 

Calm…and then crazy

crazyCalmThis travel business is strange. At least compared to the other side of my business life. In the yearbook world, things ebb and flow through the school year and after 38 years in the business, I knew exactly what to expect at any given time of the year.

In travel, you just never know. And so much of it just happens with no rhyme or reason. Two weeks ago I spent the week in the office and had a few people actually looking for travel. Then last week, really nothing to do until all of a sudden Thursday hit and a client/friend from South Carolina called and he and his wife have now booked for this summer to Alaska. Then one of my favorite local clients called and wanted me to do some research for him into cruises that go up the Amazon river. This is something I hadn’t done before and was really pleasantly surprised to find so many options for them.

Around the same time our a friend’s sister-in-law sent me a request for a Norwegian cruise to the Western Caribbean in January and a good friend/client we met on Celebrity Summit last fall who lives in Minnesota e-mailed for a travel insurance quote—which we got set up for him. So the last few days have been crazy busy. That’s how this business seems to go for me. One minute calm with nothing to do and the next minute, totally crazy.

One thing that did come from this whole thing is how full ships are right now. Especially in prime season. The example I can use is this summer going to Alaska. If you want to take your family to Alaska on a cruise ship, there aren’t too many great options out there for this summer. Your best bet is to book now for next summer. Keep that in mind. I have said it before and I will say it again, BOOK EARLY!

The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed. —Eminem

 

Visiting every country in the world?

SALThink you can do that? Visit every country in the world? Do you even know (without Googling it) how many countries there are in the world? I will save you some time—there’s 193. Late last week I was checking my Twitter feed and I saw a post from Conde Nast Traveler’s website about a guy (Sal Lavallo—that’s him at right) who actually visited every single country in the world. All 193 of them. WOW! (I want his frequent flyer miles!)

So I checked out the article. It was great. Instead of a typical travel log or interview, Conde Nast Traveler asked this great guy 193 questions. One for every country he visited. I read every one of them and I loved them. Sal is the is the kind of guy who I would love to meet and I would love to travel with. The article that you can read by clicking here is worth a look. And the best part is, it reads fast.

You can find out all about his life and his journey in bits and pieces by reading just a few of the 193 questions. You can learn some cool stuff like, which country has the best tap water or what was his worst mistake. Or the most unusual place he slept and the hardest country to get into. I am betting if you start, you will finish. It’s that good.

Were you ever bored? There was always something new to see and learn.—Sal Lavallo, the man who visited all 193 countries of the world.

 

Sorry…

Number one rule of posting online: never apologize for not posting.

Ok, I just made that up. But I just got a reminder from WordPress saying, “You haven’t posted this week. Are you going to post soon? Your readers will forget you.”

Since I only have one real reader who I am not married to (Hi Bob–tell Judy we said hi), I doubt he will forget me.

So what’s my excuse? Lots of stuff but the biggest is that our franchise partner Mark and his lovely wife Kim have gone off to an Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise owner meeting and I am covering for him this week. This means that for the first time since I taught high school in 1982 I have someplace to get up and go to every day this week from 9 to 5. It has been interesting and while I have truly enjoyed all the travel talk, it means I have gotten very little done outside of going in to work, coming home, cooking dinner and waking up really early to work on my other job.

And last night was my son’s 40th birthday so we had the local family over for dinner which consumed another full evening. By the time they went home at 8:00 I was half asleep. It was fix some websites, deal with a couple of things online, watch a TV show and fall asleep. It’s been that kind of week.

So hopefully you will forgive me and know that I will get back to posting about travel next week. Thanks for your patience.

I’m busy, man, too busy. There’s a lamentable absence of free time. —Juan Pablo Montoya

Quick Shots

Viking almost catastrophe follow up

Tonight just two quick things I want to share. The first is an awesome story about Viking Cruise Line’s ship that ran into trouble last week off Norway. If you missed it, I wrote about it late last week. Their crew and the whole company stepped up big time. You can click here to read the article. Worth the few minutes. Warning thought, it is a harrowing account. I would not have wanted to be on that ship. But I would have been thrilled by the way the crew onboard handled things.

Watching a big ship sail down a tiny canal

MeyerWerftAll through 2008 we were anxiously waiting the building and launching of Celebrity Cruise Line’s Solstice. This was not just a new ship, this was an entirely new class of ship. We (Kathleen and I) along with our Martini Mates were booked on Solstice’s 8th cruise in early March. So leading up to the launch we watched her being built at the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. They had web cams all over her and we checked every day to see the progress. We would try to figure out where our staterooms were and how the rest of the ship was coming together. Finally, after waiting for months, they had the “roll out.”

They call it a roll out because the ship literally has to roll to the sea though some pretty tight places. We watched that journey on webcams and from people posting photos taken along the way. When ships roll out from Meyer-Werft they are quite a ways from the open ocean. It is really quite a site to see a GIANT cruise ship in a tiny little canal floating through farm lands. I bring this up because it happened again this week. It wasn’t a Celebrity ship but a Royal Caribbean ship. Their new behemoth, Spectrum of the Seas, is really something to see. And she was captured in a really cool YouTube video being towed out to sea. You can watch it all by clicking here. It’s one of those things that I find fascinating and you might too. It’s only a little over a minute.

We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend. — Robert Louis Stevenson