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!

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