It’s never too early—NEVER!

TravelPlanning.jpgSorry I haven’t posted in a week. Shame on me. It’s been a busy week with my grandson’s birthday in snowy Wenatchee and our traveling buddy Holly coming north to visit. But I was back in the office again today trying to figure out how to help out an old friend who was looking to take his family of five on a cruise this summer. Here’s their story.

About a week ago this old friend (who is also a client of mine in my other life) sent me an e-mail that said, “My wife and I are thinking of taking an Alaskan cruise all by ourselves and we thought that maybe you have cruised to Alaska and could give us some recommendations.” Immediately after slapping myself on the side of the head for not having told him that we were now in the travel business and that we had cruised to Alaska six times, I offered to help him set it up. So armed with three possible cruises for him out of two different ports, I sent him some numbers. He got back to me right away. Forget Alaska.

He and his wonderful wife had decided that maybe they would take their three teenage kids along after all and not to Alaska but to the Mediterranean. Someplace he had seen an ad for Norwegian (NCL) Cruiseline’s Epic and wondered if I could check on prices for that ship. Of course I could. In fact, I came back to him later that day with pricing on a suite that would fit all five of them or two adjoining/connecting staterooms on the sailing of the NCL Epic he was interested in. After some questioning and answering back and forth they reserved the two side-by-side verandahs that connected. They would take one the the kids the other. We booked their flights through the cruise line and we were good to go…until my friend asked, “Have you been on the Epic?” I replied that I had not but I had been other NCL ships. He was worried about what a friend had mentioned to him about the stateroom bathrooms being “different” on the Epic. I assured him they were the same as every other cruise ship stateroom bathroom. They had to be… didn’t they? Of course as it turns out, they weren’t.

Early the next morning I was lying in bed at about 3:30 wondering, “What if he was right? What if there is some problem with the bathrooms.” I decided to post on the NCL boards on Cruise Critic and see if I could find anything about the Epic bathrooms. When I got to the NCL boards the first thread I see is, “Why does everyone hate the Epic so much?” Yikes! All of a sudden I knew I was in trouble. So I did some more searching (the Internet is a wonderful thing) and found this video that will show you the problem. Or this video which I like even better. Aren’t those bathrooms the stupidest thing you have ever seen? And they definitely would not work for three teenagers when two of them are  17 and 16 year old boys and the other is a 14 year old girl. Not a chance. BTW: I also texted my personal cruise expert, Seth Wayne who told me he and Jason had cruised on the Epic. They had a great cruise but the staterooms were HORRID! (The capitalization was his.)

So we cancelled that cruise. And I went off looking for others that fit my friend’s time frame (June 22-July 15) and the destination they wanted (the Western Mediterranean). I first tried Royal Caribbean (RCL) and they have one of their bigger ships, Oasis of the Seas sailing that route. That ship would be PERFECT for his teens. Lots to do.

The only problem was that there are currently only around 70 staterooms (out of 2742) that are still available. That’s almost five months before the cruise. And none of those fit what we needed—two adjoining staterooms that connected. You see we needed connecting because if parents traveling with kids don’t have connected staterooms, then they are required to have an adult in each stateroom and that wasn’t going to happen. I was able to find them a Star Class suite but the difference in price between the two staterooms on Epic (bad bathroom or not) and the Star class suite on Oasis of the Seas was a little more than $10,000. But it did come with a Royal Genie (I promise to explain this in a future post) and a whole bunch of other cool stuff. But it was still way outside their budget.

Today I booked them in two connecting staterooms on Allure of the Seas for June…2020. And that my friends is the point of this tale of woe. Book early. Book with a refundable deposit if you are worried that you can’t plan that far ahead. But BOOK EARLY! Many of the big cruise ships going to Alaska this summer are already filling up. We (Kathleen and I) have cruises this summer (one to Ireland/Iceland and one to Alaska with the grandkids) that we booked more than 18 months ago. We also have one booked for February 2020 from Fort Lauderdale to New Orleans during Mardi Gras as well as a Christmas market cruise with Viking River Cruises in December of 2020. And I am sure that we will book another on the day it becomes available for the fall of 2021 as well.

Can you still sail on a cruise ship this summer? Of course you can, but you will need to be flexible with your dates and the kind of staterooms you want. If my friend and his wife had been traveling with just the two of them, I could have easily found them something but when you threw in the short time until the sail date, the particular staterooms they needed and trying to book them on a teen-friendly ship, the pickings got really slim. You may find some staterooms open after final payment is due when those staterooms that aren’t paid for or are part of a group being held by a travel agent are released. But if you absolutely want to take a vacation at a particular time, to a particular place, with a particular bunch of people, BOOK EARLY! 

I think three-to-five years ahead minimum. I have a short-term plan, a five-year plan and a decade plan. —Steve Garvey

Giving experiences

I want to wait until tomorrow to finish my story about how we got into the travel business. Today I want to talk about gifts. Pretty appropriate since tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the next day Christmas.

About 15 years ago I stopped giving our children things for Christmas. For those of you who don’t know, we have three between us. Kathleen has a daughter (Michelle) who is married to Brian. I have a son (Josh) who is married to Cynthia and a daughter (Jenna) who is married to Joel. At the time I stopped giving presents, there were no grandchildren in the picture. Instead of things, I give them experiences.

In the beginning (before grandchildren) I would take all six of them out to do something together. This in itself was a pretty difficult thing to do when coordinating all their schedules. On Christmas morning they would open a box and inside it would tell them what we were doing that year. In the early years it was usually a play or show of some kind. For instance we saw touring companies of Lion King, Phantom of the Opera and The Blue Man Group along with some traveling Cirque de Soleil shows. Then along came our grandson and Jenna and Joel moved across the mountains to the Wenatchee area and they started getting experiences of their own without all of us. I kept giving them experiences but pretty much stuff they could do by themselves like dinners out, overnight hotels stays, airfare to Hawaii, etc.

But I kept giving the other four kids who lived near us (I call them kids but they range in age from 40 to 38) experiences here with us. We’ve done cooking classes, dinners at the Herb Farm (an incredible dining experience), more Cirque shows, cocktail tours and the really big one…three nights in Las Vegas. That was the year we took Jenna, Joel, Mason (grandson) and Maylee (granddaughter) to Disneyland as their Christmas experience.

The point I am trying to make here is this, giving experiences has been a win-win for me and our kids. First I win because not only do I get to give them something, I get to do it with them. I can honestly say, I have thoroughly enjoyed every experience we have done with them. (Well there was one cooking class that was a huge BUST but I did love going with them.) Second they win because to be honest, our kids do OK. They really don’t need any more things in their lives. Especially things I might pick out for them.

I should add that this idea has rubbed off on our kids. We opened our presents with Jenna, Joel and the grandkids on Wednesday and they gave us a trip to the zoo. Now I love the zoo but what I was really thrilled in getting was being able to go with them! That’s the experience I love.

So I want to encourage everyone who has adult kids, consider giving them experiences. Even better, give them an experience that you can do together. Sometimes the gift of time is worth so much more than a new toaster.

PS: Just to make this travel-related I can tell you what we got the grandkids this year. A seven night cruise on Ovation of the Seas this July. We have talked so much about cruising with them that we just wanted to share that with them so they can see why we love it so much. I can’t tell you what we got the other kids because we haven’t given it to them yet. Maybe tomorrow after we open gifts.

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt