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.

How did this happen???

So Monday is kind of the one year anniversary of the day that kicked off our entire travel agent/consultant odyssey. And I am going to save that story for Monday or Tuesday. But I did want to mention how we got to a place where last Christmas Eve was even possible.

As many of you know, I have a day job. One that I have been in for about 37 years. I do marketing and sales for a big yearbook printing company. It has been an amazing career and I have loved much of it but I am also getting to the point where I can see the end of that career. I have never been the kind of person who could just sit around and be retired. Can’t imagine playing golf or reading or even taking pictures all day. I would go stir crazy. I need a challenge. Plus, even though Kathleen and I are pretty set for retirement financially, if we go it on our savings and Social Security alone, we will do fine but we won’t be able to travel like we are used to. And we do love to travel.

Over the years I have imagined myself in lots of post-career jobs. Or as Mark (our franchise partner with Expedia) likes to say, “a Funtirement job.” I considered being a tour guide here in Seattle. I know I would love that and I kind of have a gift of gab for it. Thought about doing something with photography. Took an online class on taking corporate portraits and thought that might be pretty good. Heck, I could drive for Uber or Lyft. Or deliver for Amazon. I was truly up in the air about it and I was thinking that it was surely at least 5 years away at this point last year.

But Kathleen was retiring last December 15 (2017) and about four months before that, we received an e-vite from the aforementioned Mark and his lovely wife Kim to join them in exploring the possibility of us becoming travel consultants with Expedia Cruise Ship Centers right here in Redmond. Well, not exactly here in Redmond, but up on Redmond Ridge about 15 minutes away. They had seen our posts about cruising on Facebook and Twitter and had sent us the e-vite. After corresponding a few times with Mark and having a long discussion with Kathleen we decided that we should go ahead and attend a meeting of prospective consultants at the soon-to-open office. That’s right, at that point, the Redmond Cruise Ship Center wasn’t even open yet.

(An aside here: I just asked Kathleen when she thought we had gone to the first meeting at the Agency and she and I both thought it was mid-November. Went back and looked it up and it was Thursday, SEPTEMBER 14!)

We liked what we heard at the meeting and we liked the business plan so we decided that we would consider it down the road. Maybe Kathleen would think about getting involved in March or April of 2018 and I might start doing some training around that time as well and then I would jump in further, sometime in 2020. I mean, I had a full-time business I was running. In the meantime, we thought we would have access to tons of travel info, maybe get some discounts and certainly learn more about one of my favorite parts of traveling—planning it.

We made a verbal commitment to Mark and Kim in early November that we would be going forward but at a very slow pace. When we did that, Mark made a suggestion that we go ahead and get signed up so the training was available to us and so that we could attend the one face-to-face class we needed to do—selling travel insurance. The state requires that if you are selling insurance, you have some training so we signed up and did the insurance class in November. We were fully intending to not get overly involved (beyond the online training) until at least March or April for Kathleen and maybe a year or two down the road for me.

And then we had brunch on Christmas Eve.

To do two things at once is to do neither.” – Publilius Syrus