A different kind of cruise

Tomorrow we embark on a different kind of cruise for us. After 26 cruises, we are going to take one that is less about us than it is about family. On Friday of this week we are taking my daughter, her husband (who we love very much) but most importantly we are taking our grandson and granddaughter on their very first cruise. We are boarding Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas for a seven-night cruise to Alaska and we can’t wait!

Neither Kathleen nor I cruised until we were almost 50 so the very idea of starting our grandkid’s cruising life at five and eight years old is way cool! I am posting this news because I want you to know that I will be doing a complete set of posts on our cruise but I am not sure when I will be able to upload it. We won’t have (because that isn’t a perk that Royal gives its repeat cruisers…what exactly does Royal give its repeat cruisers that is worth a damn?) internet on board. We will have T-Mobile when we are ports so I should be able to post on those days. We are in Juneau on Sunday so hopefully I will get online there.

On the other hand, we may be having so much fun, you just might have to wait until we get back for a full report. Either way, more content is coming—hope you are ready. By the way, we are also going with two of our best friends, their kids and their grandkids as well so it is bound to be amazing.

AWESOME! I went looking for a closing quote about grandkids and found one by one of my personal heroes, Rita Moreno!

My grandkids are everything to me. For me, family is all! —Rita Moreno

Another Friday. Another ship visit.

Resized_20190719_111832Yesterday I (along with my friends above) did my last ship visitation of the summer. Kathleen was supposed to come along with me but after a week of having the grandkids here, I think she was just plain worn out (or we hope not…catching something). Besides the fact that the ship I was touring was one we know VERY well—Celebrity Solstice. We had just finished our recent Ireland/Iceland cruise on Celebrity’s Reflection which is pretty close to a carbon copy of Solstice. My guess is that we have probably spent 3 weeks total on Solstice since we sailed on one of her first voyages back in early 2009 and at least twice since then.

I would have skipped this visit myself (those grandkids wore me out too) but I had both travel agent friends I was driving and more importantly, I had clients that were coming for the visit as well. Celebrity allows us to invite people who might want to try their ships in the future along with us, which is a great idea and something I wish all the cruise lines would do.

We were at the pier and waiting to board by 9:15 (not sure why so early, but we were there). We have a brand new BDM (Business Development Manager) for Celebrity in Washington, who is just starting, so two sales managers (including the person who is in charge of all sales and marketing for the entire western USA) were doing the tour. They split us into two groups and our group was lucky enough to wind up with Elena, one of the Future Cruise salespeople on board. She was great and very receptive to having me show the group some of my favorite parts of the ship as well. I apologized later for “taking over her tour.” and she said it was great to get the viewpoint of a guest and see what was important to someone who had sailed as a passenger.

Since so many of my readers have already been on Solstice or one of her sister ships I am not going to say much more and just add some pics but I do want to add one thing. There was/is a little drama for Solstice as after we left the ship at 3:00, she sailed at 4:00, got halfway up the Puget Sound and lost all power. Got it back within the hour but had to turn around and come back to Seattle to be inspected by the Coast Guard. She was still here last night when we went to bed around 9:00 pm and I just checked on the Marine Traffic Global Ship Finder and she is just now clearing the Straits of Juan de Fuca which puts her about 10 hours behind. That means she left Seattle about 4:00 am.

One thing I forgot to mention, this was the best food of the entire summer for lunch. Got one of my favorite Celebrity dishes for lunch—Moroccan braised short ribs with couscous and apple pie. Just delish. And we got an excellent Malbec to go along with it.

More about this in a future post—the ways the media covers the cruise industry. Something that really ticks me off.

Our experiences of the Solstice depends entirely upon where we are when it occurs. Neither Solstice encompasses everyone. Neither can. The Solstices stand forever opposed, literally at the two poles of our Earth and experiences. —Gary Zukav


This ship is and deserves an Ovation!

Yesterday we got a chance to see a new ship and it was really special for us because two weeks from yesterday, we will be sailing on her…with our grandkids and…their parents. Because of that we were totally into this tour. So far in our travel agent lifetime we have only toured two ships that we hadn’t been on before…or been on their sister ships. But we had never toured or sailed on this class of ship and we were worried that we might not like it. But all is AOK as we were totally impressed with Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas.

We boarded around 10:30 and I had an entire list of questions from the folks on our Cruise Critic roll call that needed to be answered. To start with, I want to state that Ovation is in awesome shape. The ship (which is only three years old) looked super, lunch was great and the food was excellent. 

Some general observations:

  • People were boarding at 10:30. That’s pretty early and it also means they got everyone off fairly quickly.
  • The buffet was SLAMMED every time we went by from 11:30 (when it opened) on. If you are cruising on this ship, try and find someplace else to eat when you first get on board. Pizza at Sorrento on Deck 4, Hot dogs at the Seaplex Doghouse on Deck 15, lunch at the Solarium Bistro on Deck 14 (if it isn’t reserved for a private party as it was when we were touring), sandwiches and salads at Cafe 270 on deck 5. One place that was completely empty was the Fish and Ships, a very cool Fish and Chips place on Deck 14. It doesn’t show on the deck plans they were passing out so that may be why it was empty.
  • We were really impressed that all the pools were open, with lifeguards at 11:00 am. Also, we were impressed that for those that have kids, they have life jackets/water wings for kids at both family pools.
  • The staterooms were really, really nice (so nice that I actually used “really, really.”) Lots of storage…much more than on any ship we have sailed on before including our favorite S-Class.
  • The ship was recently converted from serving the Asian market. The changes were fairly minor. They removed a high roller’s casino and turned it into a very nice music venue, they flipped a ramen restaurant and turned it into the aforementioned fish and chips restaurant. There were a few other changes we heard about but you certainly could not tell that they had been made.

If you would like to find out more, I have added captions to the pics below. And I will have a full report on Ovation after we finish our Alaska cruise on August 2.

Photos are below and are best viewed as a slide show. Just click on the first photo and then hit your right or left arrows.

I’ve had all that you could ask for. The fat lady has sung, and there’s a standing Ovation. —Flip Wilson

Traveling with your cell phone

Beautiful young business woman talking on mobile phone while staNote: this post is primarily for my readers who live in the USA. To the others, I hope it applies to you someday.

About two weeks ago (June 26), the New York Times ran an article about traveling with your cell phone called “A Comprehensive Guide to Taking Your Smartphone Abroad for Cheap.” In case you don’t have a subscription to the online NY Times, the basic conclusion of this article was:To cut to the chase: There is a cheap way, which involves a lot of work. Or there is an easier method that will most likely cost you a pretty penny.” And then less than one paragraph later, they said, “There’s an exception to this. If you are a T-Mobile subscriber, you get free international roaming in more than 200 countries without having to make changes to your account. And to that I said, “DUH!” 

I have been preaching to my friends, family and clients about the benefits of having T-Mobile as your cell phone provider if you travel internationally for quite some time. We have been T-Mobile subscribers since we left evil AT&T (why they are EVIL is an entirely other story but I don’t feel like crying right now, so it will have to wait for another time) in the autumn of 2014.  And I have to say that I am as happy with T-Mobile as I used to be with Apple (before Steve Jobs died).

I don’t want to make this a commercial for T-Mobile but if you haven’t heard me go on and on about T-Mobile, then we haven’t talked before, LOL! First, they have some great programs for people like us…seniors (They also have special programs for military, veterans and government workers). When it comes to their senior program, I am not sure what the current cost is, but when we signed up for it we got two lines with UNLIMITED fast data and phone service anywhere in the US for $60 a month (TOTAL) FOREVER! Yup, forever. Each and every month our cell phone bill is $60 (for both of us, not each). It never changes. And that includes taxes, fees, etc. Has been that way every month since we signed up. (If you buy a phone on installments, your bill will be higher and you can add to it in certain situations which I will mention below.)

Besides having a great and permanent price, there is another benefit to T-Mobile that applies to us because we travel. Free 2-G data pretty much everywhere in the world. And free calls and 4G LTE data in Canada and Mexico which we use a bunch when we go to Chilliwack. On our October trip to Québec, we had 4G LTE fast coverage on almost the entire trip. I will tell you that they will limit the 4G fast coverage in Canada to 5GB of data but that’s a ton. I did run out on the Québec trip, but that’s because I tried to stream a Seattle Seahawks game. But when I went over the 5GB, they just throttled me back to 3G which was fine for everything but streaming video.

In Europe and the rest of the world (more than 210 countries) you will have unlimited data at up to 128kbps, which is great for web browsing, e-mail, social media and occasional use of certain features like GPS/maps. On our Iceland trip, we had plenty of coverage in Scotland, England, Ireland and Iceland. On a previous trip to Europe in 2016, we spent almost a week in the Netherlands before we cruised and there we had 4G LTE the entire time. In fact the coverage in Amsterdam and Rotterdam was better than we have here at home. You should also know that making calls in foreign countries other than Canada and Mexico will cost you something. The cool thing is that as soon as you arrive in a country, you get a text from T-Mobile welcoming you to the new country you have just arrived in and telling you exactly what the rules are for usage in that country. For instance, when we arrived in Iceland, it said, “Welcome to Iceland. All texts and 2G data are free and part of your plan. If you wish to upgrade to faster data, please click here to see the cost. Phone calls are 25¢ per minute.” That was it. In other places, different rules but always a text to let us know. If you want to see how much it is going to cost (or if it is free) before you go, you can click here to go to their Travel Abroad page, put in the country you are going to and it will tell you if there is any cost and if so, how much that is.

By the way, I checked on upgrading my data speed in Iceland and it was $5 for a 24 hour day for 5GB of fast data. Not enough to stream a Netflix movie but I got to upload a few photos to this blog. And I should add that T-Mobile does a great job of letting me create a mobile hot spot to connect my Mac which in many cases (here at home) is faster than our Ethernet connection with Comcast. So if our Comcast internet goes out, we just start a mobile network with our unlimited data and we are good to go. Of course we make sure the phone is plugged into power since that really drains the battery.

Is that enough of a reason to switch? If you ever travel outside of the USA or you are over 55 or military or veterans and can get a lifetime guaranteed price, then yes! When we were with evil AT&T our monthly bill was NEVER the same. It changed every month. They always found something else to charge us for or some other fee or tax to add on to it. One time we uploaded a short (30 second) video from a cruise ship sitting in Victoria, BC’s harbor (we thought we were on the ship’s WiFi) and the bill from AT&T was in excess of $3500. T-Mobile rocks! If you travel, get them.

My cell phone is my best friend. It’s my lifeline to the outside world. —Carrie Underwood

Joy is a Joy

My last post was all about Cunard and I mentioned we were going to be doing our next visitation on  NCL’s (Norwegian Cruise Line) Joy. So last Saturday we joined three of our fellow agency buddies (Deborah, Ruth and Christa) and headed down to Seattle’s Pier 66 (where we met Candy, another of our team) for a tour of Norwegian’s Joy. We were met by NCL’s Business Development Manager (BDM) Angie West, who runs a great tour plus she’s a bunch of fun. I need to mention for comparisons sake, that Joy can hold up to 4,600+ cruisers and is by far (along with NCL’s Bliss) the largest ship we have ever been aboard. Yet at no time did I feel crowded. There were crowds but it was livable. In the next few months (between now and mid-October) we will visit and sail on two larger ships. That should be interesting.

We were escorted onboard almost immediately upon our arrival and started with a look at the high-end section of the ship, The Haven. After the Haven, where we saw suites and spa staterooms, we went on to visit typical verandah staterooms, outsides and insides. We even saw an unusual stateroom you can only find onboard Joy, a “Concierge Interior” which is almost a suite, but an inside. (See my pics for more about that.) Unlike Cunard where we never saw any accommodations, on Joy we got to see them all before getting about a half an hour by ourselves to take pics of public areas before lunch.

Then it was off to the Taste dining room for some lunch. (Joy has three main dining rooms, Taste, Savor and Manhattan) It was not quite as good as the meal we had on the NCL Bliss last year when we mistakenly were given the entire lunch menu to choose from, but we did have a choice of some pretty decent food. I found it far superior to the Cunard lunch from 10 days before. One highlight (and proof that NCL is pretty darn cool) was that at the end of lunch, our lovely server brought Christa a birthday cake. It turns out that Ruth had just mentioned it to them when we came in and they took it from there. That’s my kind of service. Travel agents on board for lunch get a birthday cake to share—well done NCL Joy.

After lunch we were given total freedom to tour the ship and take pics of everything we wanted…so I did. If you are at all interested, please watch these three sets of photos as a slide show and read the captions. We enjoyed our day a whole bunch and we have two more visitations coming up—one on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas in a week or so and then on Celebrity’s Solstice (a ship we know well) about a week after.

First set of slides are from The Haven, NCL’s ship within a ship. Very high end, very spendy.

The next set of staterooms are a typical verandah, a special Concierge Family Inside stateroom and a handicapped accessible outside. All pretty cool.

The last set is everything I took of the public areas. If you are a ship junkie like we are, you will enjoy them. We have never sailed on NCL but this ship and Bliss have made us want to try them out eventually. They are priced well but if you are going to sail NCL, you need to know up front that much of what they tell you is “free” actually comes with a charge. They are the cruise industry champions of add-on charges. With that said, they do a great job and our many clients who have sailed with them, have had a great time and many have gone back for more cruises.

Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home… it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it. —Chuck Palahniuk

We found Joy!