Now is the time…

close up of calendar and alarm clock on the green background, plThe other day while going down the rabbit hole that is YouTube,  I saw a video about cruising that had the title, “Seven reasons you should delay booking a 2021 cruise now.” Since I am kind of in the cruising industry and a total cruise lover, I decided I should watch it to see what those seven reasons were. So I did, and I was right, I disagreed with just about every one of them. The guy who does these videos is supposed to be a “cruise expert.” And granted, he is British, so he may have a slightly different set of circumstances but I had to respond in my own small way. So here are his seven reasons and my thoughts on each of them. If you are a cruiser (or even just a traveler), this might be of interest.

Reason 1: Who knows what cruise lines will survive into 2021

He thinks that some cruise lines may go under between now and next year. Possibly that is true. Hertz (I know, not a cruise line but a big travel company) declared bankruptcy yesterday and who knows what travel company will be next, but there is a cure for this particular situation—travel insurance. And not the cruise line’s travel insurance, but a policy from an independent travel insurance company like the one we do insurance with (TravelEx). If you purchase good travel insurance you will be insured if your travel provider experiences what is called “Financial Default.” That basically means, they go out of business or severely cut back service.

Reason 2: Itineraries will change

His point here is if you book for next year now, you may find that the cruise you booked for 2020, that got cancelled, may not have the same itinerary as it did when you originally booked it. I get this one but there is an easy solution. Before you make your final payment, look at the ports and if they don’t make you happy in 2021, move to 2022 or another cruise. Not a single cruise line that I know of is currently charging to move a cruise from one cruise to another. Yes, you may have a different set of perks or a higher or lower price but that’s just the way it goes. I rebooked a couple yesterday who had a 14-night New England cruise booked for next year on Celebrity. They were getting three free perks and $200 on board credit on their original 2020 cruise. We moved them to 2021 in the same stateroom on the same cruise and they lost one of their three free perks…but the price of the cruise was $1,000 per person less. So they lost an additional $300 OBC perk and picked up a very nice $2,000 off their cruise. I think that’s a great trade.

And let’s be honest, some cruises just will not change their itinerary. Alaska cruises for example. There are only so many ports in Alaska. If your cruise this year was supposed to go to Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, there is about a 90% chance they will go there again next year. Many others will be like that. Maybe more will change in Europe than here. Our next cruise should be taking us to the Galapagos this August but we feel we have about a 95% chance of being cancelled. If that happens, we can just about say with 100% certainty, that if we rebook for next year, we will have exactly the same itinerary.

Reason 3: Prices will fall

His assertion is that prices may fall between now and when you might sail in 2021. And maybe they will (but there are some GREAT bargains out there right now) but you can always rebook at the lower price. And to be honest, because so many cruisers can’t cruise right now but want to get back to cruising as soon as they can, ships are filling up as people rebook 2020 to 2021. So if you want to go next summer and not have to put off your next cruise to 2022, book now, hold your stateroom, rebook if you need to or if  better pricing comes along.

Reason 4: Onboard costs may rise

His reasoning here is that cruising may include a lot of social distancing onboard. And that means less people on a cruise, which means that gratuities will have to up. Great, want to make sure yours don’t—prepay your gratuities or get them as a booking perk. The same with beverage packages and specialty dining. If you like to do the things that cost money on a ship, plan now. All of the things you purchase in advance for a cruise are movable to another cruise. Just plan ahead if you think this may be something you will encounter. The same is true with shore excursions and private tours. Book them now with vendors that will refund them if you can’t go. Or book the cruise line shore excursions which are usually refundable up to 24 hours before the cruise.

He also points out that airfare to get you to the cruise might be much more expensive. While I have no clue if this will happen, there is an easy solution. Buy your air from the cruise line now. This week I booked three couples on a European Viking river cruise in September 21. They purchased their air to and from the cruise from Viking. The cost was $0.00. That’s right, on many of their 2021 cruises in Europe, Viking (and possibly others) are doing Free Air for a limited time. Given, that’s economy class air but it does get you a significant discount if you want to upgrade to business or first.

Reason 5: Cruising rules may change

Your temperature may be taken before you board, the buffet may be closed, if you are of a certain age, you may need a medical release or vaccination certificate from your doctor. All of these and more may happen but if you want to travel, you will do them. I have no problem bringing a medical release from my doctor or vaccination certificate. Probably won’t die if I have to have my temperature taken, not eat in a buffet (or be able to pick my own food up). Will you? Heck, if they develop a quick test for the virus before I get on, I am OK with taking test that as well. If it turns out I have a fever or test positive and they turn me away, that’s what travel insurance is for.

Reason 6: You run the risk of getting quarantined

This is true. His supposition is correct. But then, you could get quarantined or locked down at home…wait, I am locked down at home. But seriously, if ships are being locked down at the time you are scheduled to sail, don’t go. Rebook the cruise. Make that decision 90 days before you cruise when you have to make final payment, not now.

He also feels that you you should not book for 2021 because you might have to get the aforementioned pre-cruise certification from your personal doctor. So get one! If my doctor told me not to go, I wouldn’t go. Spending a few dollars and 20 minutes with my doctor is not that big a deal. I know that some people will say they don’t want to spend the extra money to see their doctor when they aren’t sick, but it always amazes me that people who will spend $10,000 on a cruise have a problem spending less than $100 for anything let alone a physician visit.

Reason 7: Your access to facilities and shows onboard might change

Of course they will. But why should that stop you from booking a cruise for next year. Again, book now, hold your spot. If you hear that you may not be able to do the things you want to do in 2021, then hold off and do them in 2022. But why stop yourself from booking in 2021 when you can make a change later on.

The bottom line as far as I am concerned, some final thoughts

Real cruisers, (people who cruise a lot and had or have cruises planned for 2020) are not going to stop cruising completely. In fact many of them (like us, our family and our friends) really can’t wait to go. Those people are cancelling their cruises and immediately rebooking them. Especially if they took the 125% Future Cruise Credit (FCC). This week the couples I rebooked on Viking for 2021 had their cruise and airfare completely paid for with their FCC and they have more than $1800 each left to spend. WOW! Prices were down that much, their airfare was free for next summer but wasn’t when they booked for this year and they have that extra twenty-five percent.

Another thing I am seeing is ships are filling up. We had clients who had a British Isles cruise cancelled in June and rebooked on a Panama Canal cruise with their FCC in 2021. They really wanted a particular stateroom category (aft spa stateroom) but they were already sold out. Many had been sold pre-Covid but still more were sold when 2020 was cancelled. They are hoping one of the others with that type of stateroom will cancel and they can get what they really want.

I guess the biggest take-away from this is: book your 2021 cruise now. Buy travel insurance. Have your travel agent (or do this yourself) monitor the pricing and rebook your cruise if it goes down. Prebook onboard expense items like gratuities, shore excursions, specialty dining, etc. Be prepared that things will be different. But above all, keep traveling, keep cruising. We already have a monster Mediterranean cruise booked for fall 2021 and we think we will have to move our Galapagos adventure to spring 2021. Who knows what will happen with our Christmas Market cruise in December…but if we miss that, we might move it to 2022…because we may be really busy in 2021…already.

Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning. —Winston Churchill

 

 

 

 

 

 

A big change and a great thought

Good evening all. Hope everyone is safe at home (or in the case of my son and sons-in-law staying safe at work). We are doing well here and have had only one of our close friends contract the  virus and get sick and that person is doing well now.

A newspaper on a wooden desk - Changes coming in 2020Now to the big change. After much thought, stress and now relief we have severed our relationship with Expedia CruiseShipCenters of Redmond and started anew with Expedia CruiseShipCenters of Bellevue. It had become apparent over the last few months that as much as we were not happy in Redmond, the owner was not happy with us. So we felt this was a good move. We are THRILLED with the owner we will be working with in Bellevue. And he is OK with us working remotely from home which is what we really want to do since 80% of our clients have been friends and family who do not live locally. That doesn’t mean we won’t ever be in the office but just that there won’t be the pressure to be there and stare at the walls.

We discussed quitting travel consulting all together but I just LOVE helping people travel so we decided to see if we could find another place to land. We discussed leaving Expedia CruiseShipCenters completely but decided since we knew the systems and didn’t want to have to reeducate ourselves if we could help it, we would try and find an owner who saw things more the way we do. Our new owner in Bellevue absolutely does. We have had two long phone calls with him and our Zoom discussion yesterday lasted more than two hours as we got to know each other.

So if you have travel needs, just e-mail me at jbellomo@cruiseshipcenters.com or call my cell at 206-399-0846 and I can set you up. More about this change in the weeks ahead.

Best travel quote for these Covid times

The other day while out for one of my walks I was listening to the podcast, “The Daily” from the New York Times. On the weekdays they pretty much run in-depth hard news but on the weekends they post human interest stuff. Last Saturday they interviewed travel guru Rick Steves. You can hear it by clicking here. If you don’t feel like listening for an hour, then here’s the best travel thing I have heard during this entire Covid period in our lives, when everyone is either cancelling their travel or having their travel cancelled. This is what Rick had to say about all those travel cancellations:

It’s OK to cancel your travel plans. Just don’t cancel your travel dreams. —Rick Steves

That about sums it up for us. We know in our hearts that our August Galapagos trip is going to be cancelled. In fact the airline we are flying from LAX to Quito cancelled us (only on one leg of the return flight 🤫 which is weird) and we are just waiting for Celebrity to cancel our Flora cruise. But we still want to go there and will rebook it for sometime next year. It’s one of our travel dreams. We won’t lose those. You shouldn’t either.

Cities I love–part 2

About 12 days ago we were talking about cities that I love here in North America. If you missed it, you can just click here. I thought I would come back to talk about cities I love internationally. There aren’t as many as in North America but there are a few. If you didn’t see the first list then I will tell you that these are cities that we love, cities that we have either been to more than once or want to go back to again. They aren’t all the places we love. We have other places we love but they aren’t cities. For instance, we LOVED New Zealand and can’t wait to go back but we weren’t as impressed by Auckland or any other city there as we were with the rest of the country. We really want to go back but that’s a really long flight 😀. Another good example might be the Yorkshire area of England. We loved visiting there and spending time with our friends but even though Leeds and York were lovely, they aren’t a city we yearn to go back to. Going back to Yorkshire is another story—we can’t wait.

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland

We have been to Edinburgh three times. The first time way back in 2003, again in 2016 and then again a year ago this month. Each time we have stayed longer. We just love Edinburgh. I like it so much, I could live there. It is a wonderful mix of history and modern. There are miles of places for me to walk. Great restaurants and just a super small city. I want to go back again and again. Maybe part of the reason we love it is that Kathleen is of Scottish descent. Or that we love Outlander so much. We have just had a great time every time we have visited Scotland.

Panorama from the city Amsterdam in the Netherlands at sunset

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

We have only been to Amsterdam once but WOW! We were there for almost a week before we sailed on our British Isles cruise in 2016 and we loved it. At least I know I did. A lot. Amsterdam is downright gorgeous to me. Walking the canals and really any part of the city is a great way to spend time. It is also a photographer’s dream. There are great photo opportunities in every direction. Good food, great people (who all speak fluent English) and we got to stay at the best hotel we have EVER stayed in, The Banks Mansion. I would go back in a minute and when we look at European trips, if the cruise or the trip takes us near Amsterdam, you can be sure we will.

Barcelona from Santa Maria del Pi church, Spain

Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain

Like Amsterdam we have only been in Barcelona once but we were there (pre-cruise) for almost a week and it truly made an impression on us. I always tell people that Barcelona is like a city at a party—24/7. Again, great food, great people (who treat you wonderfully), a lot to do and so much to photograph. From the crowds on Las Ramblas to the incredible market, La Boqueria, to the free concerts in front of the cathedral on Sunday it rocks. When we talk to friends and clients about traveling in Europe I tell them the perfect vacation would be to spend a week in Barcelona and then take a cruise to our next favorite city and spend a week there. You would have a week of partying followed by a cruise to lots of Mediterranean ports and a week of peace in…

Romantic gondola ride near Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

One of the people that most affected my life was my Uncle Jack. He traveled (not as much as we do) and he always told me that Venice was the least favorite city he had ever been to. So when we went to Italy for the first (and only) time in 2002 I was prepared to be unimpressed. But instead, I fell in love with this amazing place. When we returned I told him that I had loved it and he couldn’t understand why. Took me a few years (and talking to others who either loved or hated Venice) to figure out why so many people had this love/hate relationship with Venice. It all comes down to WHEN you visit this city. My uncle had gone in the middle of July, the HEIGHT of the tourist season. The place is jammed with people slammed together just about everywhere. Long waits at restaurants, higher prices, packed markets and the canals that smell from the summer heat.

We on the other hand, visited in early November. The weather was still great (they had gallons of rain the week after we left) and there were no crowds. None. We walked the Piazza San Marco almost alone. No lines to go to the top of the Campanille. It was a city totally at peace breathing a huge sigh of relief at the absence of visitors. But we were welcomed everywhere in restaurants and shops that were still hungry to serve visitors. We had an amazing time and would go back (at the right time of the year) at the drop of the hat. One reason I can’t wait to go back is that I had not gotten as involved with photography and early morning photo walks then and I really want to walk the streets of Venice with my Nikon. What pictures I could take!

Sydney Skyline Panorama 1

Sydney, Australia

This is the city I refer to as the most photogenic city in the world. Everywhere you look there is a something amazing to shoot. And the Opera House seems to be in all of them. It’s amazing how many of my shots of Sydney it is in. As you can see in the picture above,  the cruise ship we were on (not the one in the photo) docked right next to that Opera House so you get to start shooting it as soon as you get there. We were there for four days post cruise in 2012 and it is a fantastic place. Again, great food, incredibly welcoming people and just plain fun, not to mention the best zoo we have ever been to (yes, better than San Diego). We had flown to Auckland for three days pre-cruise, sailed all along the southern coast of New Zealand visiting small cities and towns and then crossed the Tasman Sea to Melbourne and finally Sydney. We would love to go back.

Hong Kong Skyline Panorama bei Nacht

Hong Kong, China

We spent three days here after our 2010 South East Asia cruise on the wonderful Azamara Quest (I think this was probably my favorite cruise of our more than 25 cruises). This is the only city I really loved that I probably will never get back to nor do I now have any desire to go. When we visited it was just following the transition from English rule to Chinese and the place was a wonderful, bustling, interesting, photographer friendly city. Nothing like the demonstrations you see from there today. We were able to get around and felt totally safe all the time. Stayed at the second best hotel we have ever stayed in, The Langham. Rode to the top of Victoria Peak (where the photo above was taken) and had lunch at a truly authentic Asian restaurant, Bubba Gump’s Shrimp 😜. Maybe someday it will be safe to go back to this amazing city. We hope so.

That’s about it for our favorite cities…so far. I have high hopes for the months ahead. Even if our Galapagos trip is cancelled in July/August we are still hopeful our Christmas Market cruise down the Danube will happen in December. Before the cruise we will (at least we plan to) visit Lisbon, Portugal and I really think from all reports from friends who travel, that we will love it. Then we go to Prague, Vienna and Budapest while on the river cruise. We won’t be staying long in Vienna but we do have three days in Prague before we sail and then three days after in Budapest. Might just have to go back. You never know.

I have never felt salvation in nature. I love cities above all. —Michaelanglo

Me on TV

Screen Shot 2020-04-26 at 7.13.41 PMIn a post last week I mentioned that I was going to be interviewed on one of our local TV stations about travel because I am an agent. Thought I would share the final interview with you: CLICK HERE  It is the second video down on the page.

I should mention that Kelly interviewed me for about 40 minutes total and if I am lucky, I was on the air for 40 seconds but they did use a few pics of Kathleen and I from our trips that they had asked me about as well as quoting me in the attached article on the page.

If you know me, you know that nothing embarrasses me. Anything could happen to me on live television, and I sincerely don’t care. —Giuliana Rancic

Back to travel—Cities I love-part one

We have been having amazing weather so I have been out walking a lot the last couple of weeks. On my walks I try to come up with something to write and since it has been so long since I posted something good, fun and non-virus related, let’s get back to travel.

I have been seeing a ton of list making on social media: best albums, best songs, favorite food, etc. To be honest, I love lists. If you look up at the top of this page, you will see four menu items. One of them is Lists. Check it out sometime. It’s all the lists I have posted since I started this blog in December 2018.

Cities I love in North America

So, when I was out walking yesterday I was thinking about my favorite cities. For my purposes today, I am going to just list our favorites in North America (I’ll be back soon with the rest of the world). We have been to many of America’s great cities, big and small. We have liked all of them but the ones on this list are ones we have either been to more than once or would like to go back to someday. I am going to list them, not in the order of how much we like the city but in distance from home which means we start with…

Seattle SkylineSeattle, Washington

Yes, I know we live here but it is a city we love. A little less than I did a few years back but I still love the place. We live about 15 miles east and before Kathleen retired she worked right downtown (for most of her career) about two blocks from the Space Needle. At that time, one of us was in the city almost daily. We did theater, concerts, spent the night at hotels after those concerts and above all went in for some amazing food. Seattle has so many incredible restaurants and we love trying them. I should point out (as I have posted here not long ago) the city is no longer as safe as it once was and we think twice about when and where we go in the city. That’s sad, but I still love Seattle. I even have a completely separate website (My Seattle) that I created for friends coming here.

Downtown VancouverVancouver, British Columbia

After Seattle, the city we have spent the most time in since we started traveling together is Vancouver, BC. We made our first trip back in 1998 when Kathleen took me there for a wonderful birthday weekend. Since that time we have been back more than 50 times. We have gone less since 2005 when we met our best friends Bob and Judy who live in Chilliwack, BC, about 120 km east of the city. Before we met them, we probably went to Vancouver three or four times a year, but since then, maybe only once a year. But every time we go, we love it. I LOVE taking photos there. Many of my favorite photos in the last few years were taken in YVR (the airport designation for Vancouver and a common nickname). We will go back many times in the future and I encourage you—if you have never been there—go! Stanley Park, Vancouver Theater Sports, Granville Island, Gastown, Robson Street are all things we love and that you should not miss. Oops! I almost missed our favorite Italian restaurant—CinCin. We went there for our 20th anniversary last August and have eaten there at least 10 times. A great restaurant.

Panoramic view of the downtown San Diego skyline, CaliforniaSan Diego, California

Growing up in Southern California I spent a lot of time in the LA area (heck, I was born there—in Lynwood–near Compton) and Kathleen is from the Bay Area, right across from San Francisco but for some reason it turned out that our favorite California city is San Diego. I think the first time we went there together was for a business meeting I had to attend. We loved it. It’s a big city that’s really a bunch of small towns. From the Gaslamp District to Old Town, from Coronado Island to downtown, we love the whole place. Even losing our friends who live there…we still love it and look forward to going back. Great restaurants, nice hotels (even though we got kicked out of our room the last time because the Secretary of Homeland Security wanted three whole floors) and we have had pretty good luck with AirBnBs as well. Of course there is the world famous zoo and wonderful Balboa Park that surrounds it. One of my favorite things about San Diego is its waterfront. We have sailed into and out of San Diego harbor a number of times and it’s a great place to start or end a cruise. Besides as everyone knows, the weather is always perfect.

Sunset in Santa FeSanta Fe (and Albuquerque), New Mexico

Once we leave the west coast, our next stop is New Mexico. Yes, we know we skipped Phoenix, Tucson and Las Vegas but even though we seem to visit them regularly, if you told me I could never go back, I would neither cry or die. If you ask me where I want to go between coasts in the USA, the first place that comes to mind is Santa Fe. We have only been to New Mexico twice but both trips were favorites. The last trip was the best! Besides Santa Fe, we also got to see the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (worth the entire trip) with good friends and then spend four days in Santa Fe. If you have followed my posts for awhile you know we love food and we have done food tours and cooking classes with the Santa Fe School of Cooking while there and loved them. Lastly, if you visit, DO NOT MISS Meow Wolf. It is a one-of-a-kind experience that’s beyond crazy and a lot of fun.

Toronto city skyline at night, Ontario, TorontoToronto, Ontario

One thing I pondered when I added Toronto to this list was this—do we really love the city or am I just listing it because we get to see our friends Tim & Perry when we are there? No, we love the city and Tim and Perry are just a big bonus. We have visited three times and loved all of them. I love walking in the Beaches area where Tim and Perry live (on the shores of Lake Ontario), they have amazing food all over the city (especially when you have two foodies to take you to find that food), a super art festival called Nuit Blanche that we got to attend and some beautiful places to see within a short distance (Niagara Falls, Port Hope, the Thousand Islands). We have even flown out of the coolest airport in the world (Billy Bishop International Airport) on the coolest airline in the world (Porter Airlines). You should try both. Billy Bishop is on an island right in downtown Toronto and Porter Air is a HUGE throwback to the 1960s and gold age of air travel. The flight attendants still wear pillbox hats and they serve you actual food.

Aerial panoramic sunset view of Charleston, South CarolinaCharleston, South Carolina (and Savannah, Georgia)

Even though these two cities are in different states, they is only about a two hour drive between them through some really cool country. And both of these cities exude Southern Charm. Why we even saw a performance by “the Southern Charmer” in Charleston. The entire area is known as the “Low Country” and when we visited we found that their reputation as amazing food towns was well deserved. There are also lots of things to see (old plantations, giant oak trees, Fort Sumter, Hilton Head beaches) and do besides eating…but I liked the eating best. That and the awesome photos I got on my early morning photowalks. I would go back to both cities in a minute but if I had to pick one thing to go back for, it would be the chicken and waffles at The Early Bird Diner just outside Charleston on the road to Savannah. They were absolutely amazing. I can still taste them in my mind. You can read about our trip to the Low Country on our website.

New York City skyline from roof top with urban skyscrapers before sunset.New York, New York

I debated about adding NYC but we have so many memories there and I would go back at the drop of a hat that I just couldn’t leave it out. We have been three times and I may be getting too old for the craziness but when last we were there in the fall of 2018 I did have some great experiences. New York is not a place I need to tell people about. Either you already know or you don’t care. I will mention some of my favorite spots and memories which include walking The Highline at dawn, taking an old yacht on an architectural tour around the island of Manhattan, doing a tour of the area around Ground Zero, taking a food tour of Greenwich Village and of course theater. We have seen so many great plays on Broadway that it is hard to remember them all. And the food…don’t get me started. Too much variety, if that’s possible. New York is not a city I can’t wait to go back to but I would be really sad if you told me I couldn’t go back there.

That concludes my list of North American cities I love…and would go back to. I would LOVE to hear from you about the cities you love in the comments below. Make your own list. Pass mine around. See what people think and where they would go if they could go to any city on the continent. In the next post (or the one after that) I will list my favorites from around the rest of the world. Watch for it.

When you tour as much as I do, you’re always on the road, and you tend to gravitate toward cities where you’re like, ‘Every time I’m in that city, the shows are fun.—Tom Segura

 

My TV interview

KK
Kelly Koopmans of KOMO-TV

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I did an interview (on tape) with Kelly Koopmans of KOMO-TV. She tells me it will be shown next Friday so when it is available on the KOMO-TV website I will let you know.

Kelly is a pretty great interviewer and she made me feel like we were just having a pleasant conversation. We talked for almost 20 minutes and to be honest I didn’t even realize that we were doing the interview until about 5 minutes in. She also told me that out of that 20+ minutes of talking, she might end up using a minute or two on the air. That’s TV folks. You think you are the star and then you wind up on the cutting room floor.

One thing Kelly did, (a few days before we talked) was send me a set of questions/talking points she wanted to discuss. I did some research and added my opinions. Since I know she won’t put all of them in the report, I thought I would share them with you. The questions are in bold and my answers aren’t.

Can we expect a spike in prices once things reopen or will there be bargains to get people traveling again?

This will probably differ based on the kind of travel expense. My best guess based on what I am reading and seeing in future pricing is that we will see a lot of bargains as the travel industry tries to entice people to travel again. Even though the government may say it is OK to travel, many individuals may find have some trepidation about going out there again. It will definitely be slow to come back and hotels, airlines and cruise lines will have to really try hard to get it going again. 

How far out should you wait to cancel if you have a trip booked right now?

If you have a flight or a cruise booked that you don’t think will go, DO NOT cancel it. Let them cancel you. If you cancel, you may lose any deposit or payment you have made. Or you may only be able to get a credit that is good for a specific time. If they cancel you, you will either be able to get a refund or possibly a credit for future travel that exceeds what you would have paid for your current travel. For instance, if you cancel a cruise in June today, you may get your deposit back or pushed forward as a credit but if you wait until they cancel you, with most cruise lines, you could get a 125% Future Cruise Credit. 

Are summer and fall international trips off?

That’s one I can’t answer. As we all know, Europe was hit harder (for their relative size) than we were. Asia more so. And the CDC has banned cruises to and from the US until after July 24. Small countries (especially those in poorer areas of the world) may still have their doors closed because they were unable to deal with the virus as well as larger industrialized nations. A traveler’s best bet might be to think about in-state travel first, then inside the USA travel and finally international travel. We have a trip planned for August to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands which we are pretty sure will be cancelled. But we also have a European Christmas Market river cruise in December that I think we should be able to take.

Tell me about travel insurance… are all these changes  covered?

The best way to think about travel insurance is this: If you don’t have what is called Cancel for Any Reason insurance (which most people don’t because it is VERY expensive), then if the flight/cruise/attraction is open and running, your insurance will not cover reimbursement if you decide not to go because you are worried you might get sick or quarantined far from home. If you are sick or get the virus, then yes, you would be covered. Or if you are traveling and get sick, your insurance would cover your medical costs as well as getting you home.

If your flight is canceled do you settle for a voucher or can you get cash back?

Decide what is best for you. If your flight is cancelled, they have to give you a choice. If you cancel your flight, you might not have that choice. If you need the $$$ now, take the refund.

What are your rights as a consumer when it comes to changing or canceled  flights?

For domestic flights, as well as international ones departing or arriving in the U.S., you’re covered by the rules of the Department of Transportation. As it says on the DOT’s website, if your flight is canceled — no matter the reason — you are entitled to a full refund back to your original form of payment for the unused portion of your itinerary.

When your flight is canceled, you are entitled to a refund — no questions asked — according to the DOT rules. However, some airlines have been trying their hardest to convince travelers to go with a voucher instead of a refund – despite the rules. The airlines are doing this to maintain as much positive cash flow as possible.

If you’re offered credit for a future trip and would prefer your money back, the best course of action is to call an airline’s customer service desk. Cite the DOT rules and contract of carriage you agreed to when you purchased your ticket. If you’re still out of luck, consider a credit card charge back.

But either way, knowing your rights is the first step in getting what you want.

How far ahead should you book?

Depends on what you are booking. If you have a cancelled cruise, book the next one as soon as you can. I have clients cancelled in May who have already rebooked for next May. And those cruises are filling up fast. People are going to want to travel and many already have reservations for next year and the year after. For instance, we have a cruise booked for September 2021 and October 2022. But when it comes to air and hotel, 11 months is about as far out as you can book, so you can’t book next summer now anyway. 

Have you ever seen a time like this in your industry?

Since I have only been a travel professional for a little more than two years, I can’t say. As a traveler, I have NEVER seen anything like this. And it’s killing us not to be able to go anywhere. 

Do you think this will forever change the travel industry?

I truly believe the biggest change is going to be paying more attention when something like this starts up in another part of the world. We got off our last cruise on March 2. We went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. In hindsight, we should have skipped that one as the virus was a known factor in Asia (and Washington state) when we boarded. Other than that, I think things will be cleaner, more people will wear masks and wash hands…at least I hope we will have learned something from this. 

I have also heard that some cruise lines are also considering two huge changes. First, adding a walk-through fever checking station to their boarding procedure. Apparently this is quite common when boarding a cruise ship in Japan. As Kathleen just mentioned to me, this would NOT catch those that were asymptomatic but I believe it is a good step in protecting the rest of us. If you have a fever, you shouldn’t be cruising.

The other major change on cruise ships would (and should) be no one being able to serve themselves in a buffet. No more bread baskets (that will both kill me and save my waist line) on tables in the dining room, basically no more handling of food by passengers, only by crew with tongs and/or gloves.

So that’s what Kelly and I talked about. I just thought I would share. I would love to hear some of your comments in the space below.

Never make predictions, especially about the future.—Casey Stengel

When can we travel again?

JK333Want to know when we can travel again? Personally, I am not the one to ask, but I wanted to send you a very short post today (back later this week with a longer travel post) with a link to an article from the Seattle Times. We first saw it yesterday and it is all about “When can we travel again?” It is prognostications from a number of travel and virus experts including travel guru Rick Steves. You can find that article by clicking here. It’s a good read and might brighten your day if you (like us) can’t wait to travel again.

But apparently, I am the one to ask here in Seattle. This is the same topic that I will be discussing (via Skype) with Kelly Koopmans who is the morning anchor on KOMO-TV here in Seattle. Or at least I will be taping an interview with her this morning that will air sometime next week or the week after. I will post when I know the date. It will undoubtedly be on the web as well for those of you who aren’t local.

Kathleen wishes I could get a haircut before I do it, but we all know that won’t happen. Speaking of that, Kelly asked me to find one or two local clients of mine who had travel cancelled for this summer so she could get their reactions to that.. But my few local clients (most of my clients are friends and relatives who don’t live locally) said they didn’t want to talk on TV because “I am not going on TV. Not how I look after all this quarantine time!” Cracked me up but I know that for many people, it is the real thing.

So take a second and read the article and maybe it will give you some hope…because we all know we love to travel!

I love traveling. I hate jet lag, but I love, love, love, love traveling, to meet new people, to try different foods because I’m a big foodie. —Irina Shayk

Need some positive news?

BreathI don’t know about you but every time we turn on the news, things just seem to be better. Kathleen sits next to me and tells me the latest things on Twitter (which I have pretty much abandoned) and they are mostly negative. Everything is horrible, everything is awful. The world is over, etc. Now I don’t want to make light of it but I certainly need some positive news right about now.

First, I saw this on the web and verified it with simple math. As of this morning there are a little more than 200,000 cases of Covid-19 in the world. The current world population is 7.59 billion people. That means that the percentage of people who have it in the world is less than three percent of one percent of the population of the world. That made me feel better. Of course it DID NOT MAKE me feel like I should be doing any less as far as social distancing, sheltering in place, washing my hands or any of the other precautions we all should be taking right now. It just made me feel better.

Then yesterday a good friend of ours sent me a text with a whole bunch of very positive facts. They are below. You may have seen them before because when I Googled them to verify them, I found a lot of copies of the list. But if you haven’t seen them yet, they are great reading. To be sure that they are legit, I added the links below so you can read the original stories. They are for real and I just know that if the world pulls together, we will be OK. Our amazing caregivers and first responders have done everyone such good. Now researchers and chemists are jumping in to do their part. Here’s the facts.

– China has closed down its last Coronavirus hospital. Not enough new cases to support them; (https://nypost.com/2020/03/11/china-shuts-all-16-temporary-coronavirus-hospitals-in-wuhan/)

– Doctors in India have been successful in treating Coronavirus. Combination of drugs used: Lopinavir, Retonovir, Oseltamivir along with Chlorphenamine. They are going to suggest same medicine, globally; (https://www.insideover.com/society/indian-doctors-successfully-cure-italian-coronavirus-patients.html)

– Researchers of the Erasmus Medical Centre claim to have found an antibody against Coronavirus; (https://nltimes.nl/2020/03/14/dutch-researchers-first-find-covid-19-antibodies-report)

– A 103-year-old Chinese grandmother has made a full recovery from COVID-19 after being treated for 6 days in Wuhan, China; (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/coronavirus-latest-103-year-old-woman-recovers-wuhan-hubei-china-a9393991.html)

– Apple reopens all 42 china stores; (https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/13/21177964/apple-stores-china-reopened-coronavirus-covid-19)

– Cleveland Clinic developed a COVID-19 test that gives results in hours, not days; (https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/continuing-coverage/coronavirus/metrohealth-medical-center-can-now-test-covid-19-results-available-in-2-hours)

– Good news from South Korea, where the number of new cases is declining; (https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/coronavirus-cases-have-dropped-sharply-south-korea-whats-secret-its-success)

– Italy is hit hard, experts say, only because they have the oldest population in Europe; (https://www.wired.com/story/why-the-coronavirus-hit-italy-so-hard/)

– Scientists in Israel likely to announce the development of a Coronavirus vaccine;(https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/science/scientists-in-israel-likely-to-announce-it-developed-coronavirus-vaccine/articleshow/74592807.cms?from=mdr)

– 3 Maryland Coronavirus patients fully recovered; able to return to everyday life; (https://www.fox5dc.com/news/3-maryland-coronavirus-patients-fully-recovered-able-to-return-to-everyday-life)

– A network of Canadian scientists are making excellent progress in Covid-19 research; (https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/coronavirus-canadian-researchers-make-progress-toward-vaccine)

– A San Diego biotech company is developing a Covid-19 vaccine in collaboration with Duke University and National University of Singapore. (https://www.cbs8.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/san-diego-biotech-company-developing-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccine/509-110c3c4f-1d0c-46e4-b2df-663789db6889)

If you appreciated this, send your friends by to read it. It just might make their day.

Good news is rare these days, and every glittering ounce of it should be cherished and hoarded and worshipped and fondled like a priceless diamond.—Hunter S. Thompson

ENOUGH ABOUT CRUISE SHIPS!

The mainstream media (and now the general populace as well as the US State Department) just tick me off. I have just about had it with these organizations and government entities  making cruise lines the major focus of all that is bad in the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic. Every single morning when we wake up we turn on the TV to check the news and the lead story is always—”Cruise ship gets quarantined!” or “State Dept. warns people to stay off cruise ships.” And I hear people saying things like, “Cruise ships are nothing but human petrie dishes.” As a cruiser and a travel professional, this drives me crazy. Here’s a typical story:Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 1.01.09 PM

So I started thinking what percentage of cruise ships have been affected. So far, (after doing numerous Google searches) there has been Covid-19 cases on two ships—both from the Princess line. I am not saying this is the fault of Princess Cruises, just that this happens when crew members change ships and some from the one ship that had an outbreak moved to the other. When  they moved, Covid-19 was not even a known problem at the time. That could happen at your job, your hospital, your kid’s school, etc.

There have been other ships that authorities have suspected carried passengers or crew that had the virus but having now gone back through numerous news reports I can only find confirmed cases on the original Diamond Princess that was quarantined in Japan and now the Grand Princess currently docked in Oakland. That’s two ships with a total of a little less than 9,000 total people (passengers and crew) on board. There were other ships mentioned in news articles. Some were even denied landing in ports. For instance, Holland America’s Westerdam was stopped from entering a number of ports in Asia during February but it turned out they had 0 cases on board. Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 1.02.54 PM

The most ridiculous thing to me about all of this is that this is a MINUSCULE percentage of cruise ships (as you can see from the screenshot below that I took from an Excel spreadsheet I just put together). I listed each cruise ship from the major English-speaking cruise lines. I left out those that predominately service just the European market like the Spanish-based Pullmanter (with four ships) or the German-based Mein Schiff/Tui (with three) or the small expedition lines like Ponant or National Geographic. But, just looking at the cruise lines that are considered mainstream in the USA, here is the breakdown.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 12.46.24 PM

Notice anything? Like the fact that there have been Covid-19 outbreaks on TWO ships and there are 227 cruise ships in the major companies fleets? (If you would like a copy of the Excel file which lists every ship from these lines and how many passengers and crew are on those ships, click here.)

Since all this started, I have been asking people I meet in everyday life how many cruise ships they think there are currently sailing the oceans of the world. They never get near the number 227. For instance, today I was at Kaiser’s Redmond clinic, the dentist, Trader Joe’s and Costco (where there was still a HUGE run on toilet paper 😆).

At each place I went, I got into a discussion about the Covid-19 virus (that’s all anyone is talking about anyway) and the fact that I was on a cruise ship last Monday morning. (One person hearing this actually took a step back when I told her that 🙄).  In each place after they reacted to my being on a cruise ship, I asked them, “how many cruise ships do you think are currently sailing?” Of the four people I asked today in person, most said something like, “60?” or “100?” Just to see what I would get in a quick online poll, I just texted every person in my text list that I am friends with or related to. Some of those are major cruisers, others have not cruised at all. Guesses were all over the map. A few went crazy and said 4,500 while most, when I limited them to English-speaking ocean cruise lines (no river cruising involved), said 150-300. One non-cruiser said 225 (well done).

In actuality there are (as you can see in the chart above) 227 ships that carry a little more than half a million passengers at any one time. When you add in the crew members on board those 227 ships the total number of people on cruise ships at any given moment is just under three quarters of a million. And of all those people, less than 200 have the Covid-19 virus. If I were a mathematician, I would give you a percentage. Maybe one of my readers will tell me what that is. I can say that if there are 227 cruise ships, and only two of them have proven to have Covid-19, then that’s around 2%, right?

The media loves to pick on cruise ships. They know that they get miles and miles of headlines by making it sound like if you go on a cruise ship, you are going to get sick and die. Cruise ships are a great target and easy to cover. I just wish they would stop. There are hundreds of thousands of people whose income relies on cruise ships. This is killing them. Would I take a cruise right now? Depends on the cruise. We have four more scheduled this year. We are planning on going on all of them as of now. Our next one is at the end of April. Should the Covid-19 panic still be going on, we may cancel that one. It’s not a biggie, just San Diego to Vancouver with a very good friend but rumors are swirling that Vancouver may not allow ships to go there…which is ridiculous, so we may decide to skip that one. In August we are scheduled to go to the Galapagos. If that cruise was this week, I would go in a minute.

Ok, I will get off my soapbox now. I am just tired of reading and hearing about this. And I should say that what really set me off on this topic today was seeing a subReddit last night where a guy said he just broke up with his girlfriend and was going to kill himself by going on a cruise and catching the Coronavirus. Give me a break!

So the pie isn’t perfect? Cut it into wedges. Stay in control, and never panic. —Martha Stewart

But what about the cruise?

To finalize our Mardi Gras trip I figured that I should tell you about the cruise and give you some general impressions both good and bad. So let’s get started.

_8101855We sailed on Celebrity’s Reflection. This was the same ship we sailed on last June on our Ireland/Iceland cruise. We liked it then and we liked it this time. It is not Celebrity’s newest ship but it is the newest in their Solstice class and since we refuse to sail on the newer Edge class, it is the newest of Celebrity’s ships we will sail on (we will actually sail on a newer ship—the Flora—when we go to the Galapagos this summer but that doesn’t really count as a big Celebrity ship, more of a large yacht). We now know Reflection pretty well.

Let’s start with embarkation. We had driven down from Sarasota the day before to stay with our friend Mike (mentioned a bunch for the last few days) and on Friday (February 21) we headed to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale to board Reflection. The plan was for us to put gas in the rental car, then I would drop Kathleen, Bob & Judy at the cruise port, return the rental car at the airport (about 10 minutes away—without traffic) and then take a taxi back to meet them at the pier. So much for plans. First, I could not find a single gas station (by looking on my GPS) that was within 10 miles of the cruise port (on our way there) so when I got off the freeway to look, the entrance to the port was right in front of us. So change of plans already. I dropped everyone (and the luggage) off at the port and went in search of gasoline before heading to the airport.

How did I try and find a gas station close to the port? I asked my trusty Garmin GPS where the nearest gas station was. It told me there was a Shell station approximately eight tenths of a mile from the port in a northeast direction. So I said great, punched the button and she (we call our GPS an untypeable name) gave me directions to this station. The only problem with her directions was that this station was eight tenths of a mile from where I was…if I could FLY! Since I had to drive, it meant I had to leave the port, go over a bridge and drive about six miles in horrible traffic to get there. By the time I had the gas in the car and was turning it in at the airport a 15 minute trip had turned into a 45 minute trip. I was fuming. But then I reminded myself I was on vacation and I was about to board a cruise ship and I felt a lot better.

Celebrity has a brand new terminal in Fort Lauderdale and it is very nice. This was the first time we had used it. Embarkation was very easy and we were onboard within 30 minutes of me getting out of the taxi (you all know that I prefer Lyft but it the quickest one available in the airport was 15 minutes) and having lunch in the buffet within 45. After that (because of my late arrival), our stateroom was ready. Originally we had booked an Aqua class stateroom but the folks who had booked Aqua with us were unable to join us for a variety of reasons so with other friends on board and wanting to eat dinners in the main dining room with them, we changed to regular verandah stateroom 6244. If you haven’t been on a Celebrity cruise, here’s what it looked like when we boarded.

We have stayed in this type of stateroom before and have enjoyed it. Our only complaint before has been the lack of storage. Those cupboards above the bed are kind of worthless as they are just big, open cabinets. But we recently read on the Cruise Critic boards about some great baskets/bins you could get at a Dollar Store that were collapsible for putting them into your luggage and then fit perfectly into these cupboards when unfolded. They worked SUPER. And since they only cost a $1.00, by the end of the 10 days they were not doing that great, but we just left them behind. One other thing about the stateroom. On the first day we met our stateroom attendant, Kam and he turned out to be one of the best we have ever had.

Enough about the stateroom. Let’s move on to the important stuff—the food. Usually we would do most dinners in the main dining room with friends at early seating. This time since we were stopping in New Orleans and might be having dinner at odd hours while there, we decided to opt for Select Dining. This means we didn’t have a set time for dinner, but we could make a reservation, especially since we were a party of 11 and those tables are rare. So I made a reservation for the first night and I even called earlier in the day to verify that we were good to go. I was told we were all set. But when we arrived at the dining room, they had no record of it and told us it might be as much as an hour until they could seat us. No one was willing to wait an hour so we kind of split up. We (Kathleen and I) went up to the buffet where we had a really nice steak (for me) and pork chop (for K). Bob and Judy joined us and even thought we don’t usually eat dinners in the buffet, this was very good.

Our party at the Lawn Club Grille
Lawn Club Grillers: Allen, Hans, Mike, Mickie, David, Bob, Judy. Kathleen, Me, Barbara and Terry.

The rest of the week this was our dinner schedule, a real mix. We had dinner in the dining room most nights. We also had a late snack in the buffet on our two nights in New Orleans since I was either coming back from being off the ship or heading back out to take pictures of the evening festivities. On another night we had dinner in the Lawn Club Grille which is Reflections outdoor specialty restaurant. That about covers our dinners.

As far as the quality of the food and service, we give the Lawn Club Grille incredibly high marks. I am not a steak person but I had the best ribeye steak I have ever had. And the service was outstanding. In the buffet, we were totally impressed with the selection (even a lot of outstanding Indian food which we had never seen before), food quality and the service, although sometimes it was hard to find a member of the bar staff to take a drink order or get us a glass of wine.

The dining room on the other hand was pretty much mediocre. Maybe we just expect too much but after twenty Celebrity Cruises their menu is very tired and needs to be refreshed. Most nights, there are at least two dishes on the menu that we have seen for 15 years and they weren’t that good the first time. And the service was not up to Celebrity standards either. Most nights it was OK but a couple of them it took forever to get served. We had menus in minutes, then it took 20 minutes to get appetizers and another 35 minutes after that to get entrées. That’s just not Celebrity like.

IMG_2347We did lunch most days in the buffet and enjoyed it. We also did a special hamburger lunch back at the Lawn Club Grille as well as a sea day lunch at The Porch, Reflection’s outdoor seafood restaurant. It was EXCELLENT! Enjoyed all the food and outstanding service. I love their seafood tower (at left) and their sangria, although I did think the lunch we had in the same place in Iceland in June was better.

Breakfast was usually a muffin (or two or three) and latte/Americano in Cafe Al Bacio or the buffet for something more substantial if we knew we were going to be out until late.

OleksiiMoving on from the food, we can’t say a lot about the entertainment. When we are on a cruise, our predominate evening preference is socializing with friends. Most nights would find us at the Elite (a higher level of Celebrity loyalty program) reception before dinner and then in the World Class Bar after dinner. One of the highlights of our June cruise in Iceland had been meeting Oleksii, the most amazing bartender in the world in that World Class Bar (a very special bar that is affiliated with a particular world-wide bartending contest). Well, one of the best part of this cruise was seeing Oleksii again. When he first saw us he just about jumped out from behind the bar to come and give us a huge hug. When we left him on the last night of the cruise, he gave Kathleen a kiss on the cheek and I jokingly said, “What no kiss for me?” and I got one myself😆.

We also had a great time with Oleskii’s bartending partner, Santos. Both of these amazing  guys taught an outstanding Mixology class one afternoon that we took and LOVED! In fact, Santos took video of it and you can see it by clicking here. It’s hilarious. You can see Kathleen and I shaking cocktails like crazy.

To sum up, the Reflection is a wonderful ship, sparkling clean with an awesome crew. Since this was our second time on board, we would clearly sail on her again and again…except for the fact that we (after 20+ Celebrity cruises) don’t have any other mainstream Celebrity cruises booked. We are sailing Celebrity’s Flora in the Galapagos but that’s one of their expedition cruise ships. We doubt we will be sailing on one of their ships again (unless coerced by friends 😀) in the future. Our next cruise is on Holland America and after Flora, we are doing a river cruise with Viking followed by a Viking Ocean cruise in October 2021. If we like Viking, we probably will make them our mainstream line of choice. I will explain more in a later post.

One last thing—I can’t write a cruise review without mentioning Coronavirus. Covid-19 on cruise ships is all the people on the news are talking about. We had no problems with illness whatsoever. In fact, if anything, the virus made everyone more diligent in doing things like washing hands, not touching faces and Celebrity cleaning. Personally, I have come home from every one of our last six cruise trips with some kind of virus. Either a cold or the flu with fever. So I was determined not to get sick this time and I was extra vigilant. As many of you know, I don’t do elevators on cruise ships. I use the stairs to try and help with warding off all the calories I am eating. I did this again this time but I can honestly say that I never touched a stair rail. I was consciously aware of doing it. And it worked. I came home healthy and now almost a week later, I still feel great.

Oops, I almost forgot the BEST part of the entire cruise—sailing with our friends. Of course Bob and Judy (who we see a lot as they live just north of us in BC) that we traveled this entire trip with. But beyond them, it was great to see our close friend Mike. We were totally thrilled about two months before the cruise when Mike told us his neighbors Hans and Barbara would be joining us on this cruise. We had sailed with them on one of our favorite cruises back in 2010, when we went from Singapore to Hong Kong. We see them just about every time we are at Mike’s. They are two of our favorite people. Hans is an amazing guy who is absolutely hilarious and Barbara and I always seem to be able to find something to talk about. Also joining us were two of our newest Martini Mates, David and Mickie. There is a long story about a unicorn, a horse, a cruise director, etc. but I won’t get into it here. And two of Mike’s other neighbors who we had not met before joined us as well—it was great to have Terry and Alan along. Just for giggles, here’s a bunch of pics of all of us having a great time.

Old and young, we are all on our last cruise.—Robert Louis Stevenson