Why we cruise?

img_0834Why 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).

Friends

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.

Another list—Best small cities in the USA

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Savannah, Georgia (Number 3)

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.

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Palm Springs, CA (Number 13)

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.

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Meow Wolf in Sante Fe, New Mexico (Number 2)

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 the Low 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

 

 

Lists—we have lists!

I love lists! It’s the end of the years so the magazines, newspapers, websites are all featuring best of 2018 lists so I am in hog heaven right now. So today I am posting my first list. Besides posting them here as a post, I have created a special page where they will always exist. See the main menu above.

Places we have been together

So let’s start my lists with a personal one…countries that Kathleen and I have visited. To get on this list, we have to visited this country on the ground (that means changing planes doesn’t count) and together.

  1. USA (of course we were born here)
  2. Canada (Our home away from home. We have so many friends there.)
  3. Italy (Our first overseas trip to find my ancestors)
  4. Vatican City (Ok, we know it’s tiny, but it is a country)
  5. England (Part of our second major trip in 2005)
  6. Scotland (Part of our second major trip in 2005)
  7. France (Part of our second major trip in 2005)
  8. Aruba (Our first real cruise through the Panama Canal on Celebrity’s Infinity)
  9. Panama
  10. Costa Rica
  11. Mexico
  12. Dominican Republic (One of our few Caribbean cruises on Celebrity’s Infinity)
  13. Bahamas
  14. Greece (Part of an amazing “Exotic Mediterranean” cruise on Celebrity’s Galaxy)
  15. Turkey
  16. The Ukraine
  17. Romania
  18. Spain (Part of an amazing Western  Mediterranean cruise on Celebrity’s Century)
  19. Monaco (Ok, we know it’s tiny, but it is a country)
  20. British Virgin Islands (One of our few Caribbean cruises on Celebrity’s Solstice)
  21. St. Maarten
  22. Singapore (Maybe my favorite cruise ever on Azamara’s Quest)
  23. Thailand
  24. Vietnam
  25. China
  26. New Zealand (Part of a wonderful cruise on Celebrity’s Century)
  27. Australia
  28. Belgium (Visited on our Baltic cruise on Celebrity’s Eclipse)
  29. Germany
  30. Sweden
  31. Finland
  32. Russia
  33. Estonia
  34. Denmark
  35. Guatemala (Our second trip through the Panama Canal on Celebrity’s Infinity)
  36. Columbia
  37. The Netherlands (Almost a week here before our British Isles cruise on Celebrity’s Silhouette)
  38. Ireland

This summer we will be back in Ireland and adding Iceland to this list. And of course we have been back to a bunch of these places numerous times. And there are many we would like to visit again.