You may have heard that late yesterday, the Oasis of the Seas, one of the largest cruise ships in the world is skipping a day at sea and coming home early due to…norovirus. I say you may have heard this because it was on all the nightly news on about every network and it will be covered by the other media. This is another thing I get asked about all the time by our non-cruising friends. “Aren’t cruise ships dirty? Everyone keeps getting that norovirus thing.”
Well I just have to say this…it’s the flu. The 24-hour stomach flu that you and I have been getting since we were kids. (See the CDC description here) But because people are in such close proximity to each other on cruise ships it tends to multiply a little quicker than other places. But not all other places. Schools are just as bad. Colleges, especially dorms and Greek houses. Then why do we only hear about it when it happens on cruise ships? My guess is that it’s because they actually do something about it on cruise ships. They take people home early. They stop and clean the entire ship. They sanitize beyond belief…because no one likes to be sick on vacation. Take it from someone who got a horrible cold on our last vacation, it’s a terrible place to get sick. All you want is your own bed, your own medicine, your own TV shows and books to distract you and you feel like you have to struggle through.
But it just frosts me that every time this happens, a huge deal is made about it. On the Oasis this time, 277 people are sick as of a day ago. 277 out of more than (counting crew) 8,000 (quoting ABC Evening News). And it makes headlines. Now let’s take any 8,000 random humans. My guess is that there are pretty close to that many of them sick at any given time. But because this happens on a cruise ship, we make a big deal about it.
Yes, Royal Caribbean did choose to cut the cruise short by one day so they can completely disinfect the ship. We have seen them do that and they do an awesome job. And yes, the people on the cruise will be disappointed. But Royal is refunding them for their entire cruise and they can take their next vacation pretty much free. And for all but 277 of those 5,000+ guests, they got a pretty decent vacation to start with and they get another one for free later on. Do you think if any of those folks had been on a land-based vacation at a hotel and they got the flu, that the hotel would have given them a free week’s stay? I doubt it.
So the next time you see a news report that there is a norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship, just remember this message—It’s the flu. Brought to you by this guy who loves to cruise.
One of the other travel consultants at our agency sent out a note yesterday that I just want to pass on in a very short post today. This is a message from TSA that came our way yesterday:
Beginning on Jan 22, 2019, TSA will enforce the federally-mandated REAL ID requirements on all domestic travel. For details by state, visit https://www.dhs.gov/real-id .
I should warn you that the website this sends you to to is down until after the government shutdown is over but the big news is that after January 22, you won’t be able to use your plain vanilla driver’s license to board an airplane in the USA. But that’s OK because hey folks, it’s time to plan for future world travel and get a passport.
Now I will admit that I did not have a passport until I was almost 50 years old but since then I have been making a really good effort to fill them up (on my second one–they last 10 years) with visa stamps from all over the world. Been making up for lost time.
So if you are even thinking about getting on a plane anywhere in the USA after January 22 you will need a “Real ID” enhanced driver’s license (and not every state offers those) to be able to board. Washington offers them but you have to ask for them and pay a little extra. At least that was the case the last time I checked. But the real message is, get a passport.
Why do you cruise? This is something that always comes up. When we are with friends who do not cruise (like our next door neighbor who we love anyway) and we tell them that we cruise, we get a look. A look that is almost like we have told them we are swingers. Well, not that bad but close. And I know that I have a lot of non-cruiser friends out in the Twitterverse and in Facebookland so I want to address that today by telling you why we cruise. (WARNING: I may get verbose here.)
We haven’t always cruised. When we got together back in 1997 we did road trips (Yellowstone, Oregon Coast, etc.) and then we did our first big overseas trip to Italy in 2002 followed by the British Isles and Paris the next year…all on land and air. In the meantime, we tried cruising by going to Alaska on Holland America and a HORRIBLE Carnival cruise to Mexico. But what really got us into cruising was that while we were planning our European trips the value of the dollar changed dramatically. A hotel we had booked in Venice for $175 a night became $225 a night between the time we booked it and nine months later when we stayed there. The price of the room in euros hadn’t changed but the exchange rate between euros and dollars certainly had.
So we said, let’s try cruising again. Once you pay the price, you know the price and it stays that way. Our travel agent at the time, the amazing Norma Jean had told us we would HATE Carnival and not to go. She was right. It didn’t fit us. It was great for some but not for us. This time (three years later) she suggested Celebrity. So we booked the Panama Canal in 2004 and sailed. And we LOVED it! We met new friends—some we are still friends with today and had both an amazing time visiting four countries and seeing the canal as well as sea days with more stress-relieving relaxation than I ever knew I needed.
So that’s how we got started. Here’s why we still cruise and have done more than 25 since then and have four others already booked.
You only have to unpack once
This is the first reason that most people who cruise think of when they are asked why they cruise. When we did Italy we each carried 22 inch suitcases and we stayed in five different hotels. We lived out of those suitcases, then we packed them up and moved them on to the next place by air or by train. To be honest, it’s a pain. We did the same thing this last fall in our pre-cruise trip through Canada, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York. Five different cities, packing and unpacking. Then we got on the ship, unpacked into the closet and dresser and we were good to go! HEAVEN!
Your hotel moves every night
If you choose your cruise line well, then every night after you tour a city or an island you come back to a hotel that you love. You have dinner at that hotel, you sleep in the bed you slept in the night before and while you are asleep, the hotel moves to another city or island or town that you can explore the next day. And then you do it all over again. And if you get too tired touring the places on shore, you can stay on board, or there might be a sea day so you can relax. You can go to the spa, take a cooking class or just read a book knowing that the next time you wake up, you will be someplace new.
Cost is set
As I mentioned above, once you buy a cruise, you know what your vacation will cost. A bunch of cruisers just thought, “Not my cruise, I added a bunch of stuff.” And that is true. The cost of a cruise can go up after you sail…if you buy services or things that cost extra while you are onboard. But it is YOUR choice. You don’t have to have that manicure in the spa. You don’t have to go to the speciality restaurant, you don’t have spend an additional cent. A good travel agent should be able to tell you to within a $10 how much you will spend to take a cruise including the price, the gratuities, any tours you want to take or anything else you would like to do. If you go over that, it’s your choice.
Everything is included
So on those land-based vacations we took, we could budget for a certain amount for food. But then we would get to the restaurant and see something on the menu that was more than we had budgeted and since we would probably never get back to this place again, we spent the extra to get it. On a ship, everything you need to survive is included. And on some ships, everything you want to survive is included (think alcohol here).
Planning is easier
This is my favorite. As a travel professional I have done complete land-based trips for clients that you could not fit a single day of the plan on a sheet of paper. There were so many variables. Train tickets, hotel reservations, restaurant reservations, tours, shopping time, etc. When I plan a cruise, I book the cruise, check the ports, book a tour in each one and I am all set. I know where I am going and how I am going to get there. Yes, I could do all that and keep track of it all while I was traveling on land but it’s just too much hassle. I will take a cruise any day.
Easier to disconnect if you want to but also easier to connect if you have to
You have such a better choice with cruising when you want to be able to disconnect from work, your home or the world in general. If you don’t want to hear from anyone, you turn your phone to airplane (cruise ship?) mode and you are all set. The same can be said if you need to stay connected. It’s easier to stay in touch on a ship. There’s WiFi where you need it, you don’t have to search a city for a Starbucks.
It’s a super value
Cruising can be an awesome value. I just had a client come in looking for a longer (more than 20 night) cruise with a base fare of $100 per person, per night. I wasn’t sure I could get him anything that low but lo and behold, I found him a 35 night South American adventure up the Amazon for $97 per night per person. Try going from Buenos Aires to Fort Lauderdale with 25 stops in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Aruba and five other stops in the Caribbean by air, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants for that price. Good luck!
Cruise ships come in all shapes and sizes
So you might want to cruise but you don’t think you want to be on Behemoth of the Seas. We get that. There are cruises on ships that have under 100 passengers and cruises on ships with more than 5,000. There are cruises where the ship itself is the destination. There are cruises where the destination is everything. There are cruises where you could be busy every second and ones where you can do nothing but relax for 22 hours a day (you have to eat sometime).
I saved this one for last because while it is not the reason we started cruising, it is the reason we still cruise. We have made about 90% of the close friends we have in our lives while on or planning a cruise. My two best friends in the world are both Bobs and I met them both on cruises. We have sailed with both Bobs numerous times and we have cruises planned with them in the future. Because of cruising we have friends in England (hi Paul and Gail), Italy (hi Marcello), New Zealand (hi Charlotte, Warwick and Daniel) and Toronto (hi Tim and Perry) and lots of other places. We have been to see some of these folks, we have toured with others, we share memories on Facebook with others.
Both Kathleen and I worked in jobs where there weren’t a lot of people nearby (in my case, my nearest coworker lives more than 65 miles away) or in our age range (most of Kathleen’s coworkers were 20-30 years younger than her) so we have made almost all our friend cruising.
Plus, cruising is a great way to get together with friends without anyone having to host or cook or clean. Many times we have considered renting a cabin or a condo with a bunch of people but then who has to do that stuff. Sure you can share expenses but what about dietary wants and needs. Or handicapped access for someone in your group. If you all go on a cruise together, everything is taken care of for you. It’s been a while (other than a working cruise to Alaska last year) when we have not sailed with at least 10 people that we have sailed with previously. We are part of two groups of cruisers (The Martini Mates and The Silhouetters) who cruise with each other all the time. It’s awesome. We stay in touch on a daily basis on Cruise Critic (more about that in another post), Twitter, Facebook, texting and e-mail. That’s how we plan all those cruises.
So that’s why we cruise. We don’t believe it’s for everyone, but we do think everyone should try it. When we did that Panama Canal cruise in 2004, Kathleen was worried that this Type-A personality guy would go nuts on the six sea days (frankly, so was I) but I now LOVE sea days. And when people ask me my favorite cruise destination, I always have the same answer (always will)—the ship.
I fully realize this is supposed to be a travel posting. That I should be writing about travel. But to be honest, life got in the way. There was a great post on why you should use a travel agent I was going to write or a note about why we like to cruise. I had some time, so it would have been a good one.
But about 10:30 this morning Kathleen came down to my office where I was working on some travel stuff and she was crying. She said she had some bad news. She had read on Facebook that one of my oldest friends had passed away on Wednesday. His name was Bob. Now I have had three close male friends in my entire life and for some reason they are all named Bob. Seriously. This Bob used to live here. He worked with the yearbook company that I still work with. I have known him since 1982 when I joined the company. Since our other two Bobs have come into our life, we always refer to this Bob as “Original Bob,” because he was the first Bob in my life.
When Bob and I first met I had a sales territory in Eugene, Oregon and Bob had a sales territory here in Redmond (where we now live) that encompassed most of the Seattle area. We would see each other twice a year at business meetings where, because my last name started with B and his with C, we almost always wound up rooming with each other. He became my favorite person I worked with because he was so worthy of being a friend. He was the FUNNIEST person I have ever met. His wit was so quick it outpaced mine by a mile. He was smart-funny. He was so many things I wished at the time that I was. Confident. Good looking. Well dressed (wow he was well dressed), a great husband and father and so much more.
After I had spent nine years in Eugene and decided to take a territory here in Washington I found myself living in Leavenworth with most of my territory being north of Seattle. That meant to get to any of my schools, I would need to drive 125 miles each way over a mountain pass. And since I had about 30 schools over here, I would have make that commute 8-10 days every month. Bob and his incredible wife Cindy and their two boys Chris and Drew quickly offered me their guest room (actually their couch) and for the next six or seven years I spent 6-8 nights a month at their place. Those nights were amazing. Spending time with the Coutures was always fun and Bob would teach me things about yearbooks and selling yearbooks that no one else ever had. He was a true mentor. During that time, they would come and see us in Leavenworth as well but business-wise Bob and I talked about five times a week even after I stopped that commute.
A few years later, Bob became my boss. He took the position as regional manager for the Northwest and did absolutely terrible at it. Not because he wasn’t a great manager of people (because he was) but because he HATED the politics of it. He didn’t last long doing the job (I want to say less than a year) and when he went out (after 20+years with the company) he did it the right way. He took all his good company friends out (using the company credit card) while we were in San Diego for a meeting and we had the party of a lifetime. And then the next day, in front of an open meeting of the entire region, he just quit. And really lambasted the entire culture of the company (which needed it when he did). It was awesome. Pure Bob.
I need to mention that before he left that job he and Cindy helped me get through my divorce. Bob was there to talk whenever I needed to talk. He was my friend and he proved it during that time. They were the first of my friends that Kathleen ever met. They loved her from the get-go and that really confirmed how I felt. I remember us going out to brunch with them the first time I came over to see her. It was the first of many outings we would take together. Most memorable were a particular night at Desert Fire here in Redmond, seeing Teatro Zinzanni for the first time and the aforementioned dinner in San Diego. Bob and Cindy were one of only six people from the company at our wedding. And sadly, we lost another of the six less than two months ago.
After he left the yearbook company, Bob joined and ran a financial news magazine about the mortgage industry for a few years. As I mentioned, he was a GREAT manager and he did great at this as well. He eventually decided to take the magazine digital and asked me to be the one to do that with him. I was both honored and thrilled to be working alongside him again. We would probably still be doing this but corporate politics did him in again. He just didn’t want to be bothered with the crap and I don’t blame him one bit.
Soon after he and Cindy moved to Arizona, where he went back to his original job (my original job too) of teaching school. He taught drama and…what else…yearbook. From that point on though, other than them coming up here or us going down there (which happened about every other year), it was Christmas cards and tweets and Facebook posts. But I always knew I had a friend if I needed one.
While I know that I haven’t seen Bob since last Christmas (2017), we had plans to see him and Cindy this March at their place. And it’s just not fair that I won’t get to see him again. Getting old sucks. Not from the aches and pains and the memory loss but from the friends you love that you lose. I will miss you Bob.
So yesterday my number one reader sent me an e-mail and said I was being verbose. Of course I have heard the word used to describe me many times.
If you were like me and didn’t know the exact meaning, here you go.
using or expressed in more words than are needed.
He is right. I can be verbose. Yesterday I was. I should have just written about the 15 best small cities, why we liked the ones we have visited and asking which ones you have visited and why you liked them. Instead I kept going back and adding stuff and writing asides. Sorry about that.
I tend to write the way I talk. It’s conversational. And those of you know who me, know I talk a lot.😀 And what makes things worse is that I type about 100 words per minute. When I get going—I get going. Ask Kathleen. She always looks over and asks, “What are you typing about now?”
So I will do my best to be a better editor. I promise. Less is always more. See you tomorrow. Have a super day!
I subscribe to a ton of daily travel e-mails. So many that I can barely keep up with them. Today in my inbox was a cool list from a reader’s poll on Condé Nast Traveler website that inspired me to toss it out to you with some notes of my own. You can see the original article with all their comments by clicking here but this is the list of the best small cities to visit in the USA (under one million people).
Best small cities in the USA
15. Santa Barbara, California
14. Newport, Rhode Island
13. Palm Springs, California
12. Napa, California
11. Portland, Maine
10. Key West, Florida
9. Greenville, South Carolina
8. Asheville, North Carolina
7. Monterey, California
6. Sedona, Arizona
5. Sarasota, Florida
4. Alexandria, Virginia
3. Savannah, Georgia
2. Sante Fe, New Mexico
1. Charleston, South Carolina
I see a lot of these lists. I don’t think I have ever seen one I agree with as much as this one. We have been to a number of these small cities and loved them all. I will make some notes about those. In the meantime I need to add the ones we haven’t been to yet, to our list of future places to go. So far we have not visited Alexandria, VA (other than a quick stop on the outskirts while visiting Washington, DC), Asheville, NC, Greenville, SC and Newport, RI. I have been to Sarasota (and loved it) but Kathleen hasn’t so I never count a place as visited unless we both go.
Some thoughts on the other small cities:
Number 15–Santa Barbara, CA and Number 7–Monterey, CA. We haven’t been to either of these places in years. They were both part of our Mom-to-Mom tour we took years ago. We flew into Oakland and visited Kathleen’s mom in San Leandro (near Oakland) and then drove all the way down the coast (staying in both these towns) to visit my Mom in Number 13–Palm Springs, CA. We loved them all but we haven’t been back to Monterey or Santa Barbara in years. Maybe it’s time.
Number 13–Palm Springs, CA. If you know me, you know this is where I grew up. Lived here from the time I was four years old until I graduated from high school (Palm Springs High class of 1971) and went off to college and then moved back for a couple of years after college. My parents lived there until they passed away a few years ago so we have spent a LOT of time there over the last 20 years since I met Kathleen visiting them. I suppose I see Palm Springs from an entirely different point of view than I would as just a place to visit. We were last there in March of last year when our Toronto buddies, Tim and Perry were visiting for some sunshine so we went to meet them.
It has also been awhile since we visited Napa, CA (Number 12) and Key West, Florida (Number 10) but when we did we had a super time. If I had to choose which one to go back to first, I would pick Key West. Our visit was only three days/two nights but we really had a great time. But then we were visiting with our buddies Bob and Jude so that may have been it.
Lastly in the last two years we have done some major touring in all of the top three. We did a week long trip to New Mexico which included Santa Fe (Number 2) and also got to see Albuquerque as well…during the Balloon Festival…which was incredible and if you ever get a chance to attend—do it! Plus we have friends in New Mexico (Hi Mary and John) who took us so many places and made so many great recommendations. If you ever go to Sante Fe, make sure you go to Meow Wolf. I wish I could describe it but the morning we spent there was nothing less than surreal…and fun. Check out their website with that link.
Lastly, just a few short months ago (it seems like a few but it was May 2017) we spent a week touring theLow Country and visiting Savannah, GA (Number 3) and Charlestown (Number 1) and would go back in a minute. Loved both places a bunch. Click the Low Country link and see what we did while there. We can highly recommend just about every single place we went while we were there and we loved the food.
I just realized that I skipped Portland, ME (Number 11). I think that because we were really only there for about half a day on our New England cruise last October and it was hot, humid and horrid. Kathleen almost wound up with heat stroke. Who would have guessed that it would be almost 90 degrees in Portland, Maine in October? We need to give the place another chance. Just not sure when.
So, what small cities have you been to that you loved? What would you go back to? What would you have skipped? Where is the next small city you wan to visit? Let me know in the comments.
When you look at a city, you know, it looks so unique. You feel this kind of uniqueness, you know, and especially if you go from a big city to a small city or if you go from one country to another. Cities look very different, often. They even feel very different. You know, and they are, of course. They certainly are.—Geoffrey West
I have had this post in my head all day long and finally have time to get it up and online. It’s kind of a combo post. A chance to share where we are going this year and a chance to ask you where you are going.
Last night we had dinner next door with our wonderful neighbors Jayesh and Lisa as well as Lisa’s sister Leanne and her husband Derrick. Most of the night was spent talking about travel. One of the things that came up was all the places we would all be going in the coming year and I told our friends that it just drives me CRAZY when I don’t have something planned. Either a cruise or a road trip or a visit to someplace we haven’t been. There was a point a few years ago where we didn’t have any trips planned anywhere and it drove me nuts until we got something reserved.
Last year we did not sleep in our bed (because we were traveling) for a total of 70 nights. That’s more than two months. We are pretty sure that this is the most we have ever been gone in a calendar year. We did three cruises, one preceded by a very long road trip as well as going on a number of short trips within the western US not to mention numerous 100+ mile road trips to see the grandkids in Wenatchee.
This coming year we already have 40+ nights that we know we are going to be on the road. Between those short trips to the kids in Wenatchee, a March trip to Arizona, our big European trip in May and June and our Alaskan cruise with the grandkids in July we will be getting close to that two month number again. I know we will add something in the fall or we just wouldn’t be us.
We try to take one BIG trip each year and a lot of smaller ones. Last year we were in Southern California three times (January, March and November). Those were our small trips. Our New England trip was the big one that found us out of the house for almost a month. And we also had two other short cruises, a FAM to Alaska with HAL and Seth’s birthday cruise around Puget Sound.
This coming year the big trip is May/June Europe trip. We will spend four nights in Edinburgh, six nights with our Mates Paul and Gail in Leeds, UK, then three nights in Dublin followed by a 10 night cruise from Dublin to Iceland and back. We will be gone almost a month on that one.
So that’s our plans right now. What are yours?Where are you going this year? Some of my readers (who comment a lot) are coming with us on some of this but we would love to know where else you already have plans to visit in 2019. So let us know in the comments below or on our FB page or by e-mail or Twitter. We would love to hear from you.