When we were on Celebrity’s Flora two weeks ago we spent a bunch of very pleasant dinners with two new friends, Katherine and Jamie (that’s them on the right). Jamie and I (even though they are both young enough to be our children) had a lot in common. He loves beer, Formula 1 racing and octopus. All three of those interests make him a great person to have a conversation with…in my book.
Then it turned out that I had two things in common with Katherine. First, she is as big a fan of the what we (Katherine and I) consider to be the greatest television show ever made—Ted Lasso (back tonight for season 2 on Apple TV+! We can’t wait! If you haven’t seen it, go watch the first season now) and she also (like me) can’t stand to finish a vacation without having another one planned.
It just about kills either of us to have nothing coming up and booked. Thankfully for Kathleen and I, we have so much booked I don’t have that problem (but there have been times I did) with our annual beach trip with the grandkids next month, my 50th high school reunion in Palm Springs in October, our Portugal/Amsterdam/Christmas Markets cruise in December, our Pacific Coastal cruise in May 22 and our Mediterranean cruise in the fall of 22.. But Katherine had that problem—nothing booked. I told her to get going. I gave her some suggestions but sadly, I can’t be her travel agent because she works for Royal Caribbean and gets some really nice employee discounts. I am pretty sure that’s how they wound up on Flora.
But if YOU don’t have any travel plans and it’s killing you too (blatant and shameless plug coming 😀), drop me a note. I have plenty of ideas of where you might be able to go and I can even help you to get there.
When you can look forward to something outside of now, then you have an open door. —Esther Peril on Armchair Expert
I do. The older I get, the more I feel the need to train before we take a trip. It’s something I highly recommend if you travel extensively like we do. It can really make your trip a whole bunch better, especially if your trip will involve more physical activity than you are used to.
I started thinking about this post today while I was out hiking/walking. Many of you know that I do a lot of walking. (More about that later that you can choose to ignore.) But today I switched into travel training mode. I bet you are thinking, “what’s the difference and why did you switch?”
The first difference is the shoes. Here at home when I walk every day I wear New Balance shoes designed for walking and running. They are a great shoe that I love and they look like typical athletic shoes. But on our upcoming Galapagos trip I won’t even bring those shoes. They are for walking city sidewalks, bike paths and maintained trails in parks. The Galapagos are all about hiking up hillsides, hiking on hardened lava and walking on beaches. So today I shifted from my regular walking shoes to hiking boots. I will try to wear them at least three times a week until we go later this month. I will also start wearing my Teva sandals just around town to get ready to wear those as well.
Which brings to my first point—if you are going to be doing more walking than you usually do, start walking a month or so before and get yourself up to the distances you will be walking on your trip on as close to the terrain type as you can get. Wear the shoes/boots/sandals you plan on walking in. Nothing ruins a trip involving walking like a blister on the first day or finding out you left the shoes you should have taken at home.
You need to do this even if you aren’t going to be climbing all over lava rocks. If you never walk on cobblestones and then you go on a cruise/trip that involves a day of walking on very hard surfaces, you will have problems if your feet, legs and back aren’t ready for those.
As I mentioned above, today I shifted to hiking boots and that also meant that I changed my route as well. Since the start of the pandemic, I have been avoiding a lot of the trails around here like the plague 😜 because there are far too many people. We have an excellent bunch of walking trails but they are just too crowded and many of the people walking on them these last few months have been maskless. So sometime in April of 2020 I switched my walking to mostly streets. With all the good trails, the sidewalks here get very little use.
But today I switched to a hiking trail with some actual elevation. It is also unpaved with some nice rocks and dirt to practice on. It won’t be like the lava and high hills I will see in the Galapagos but it will get me started training for those. I did this in 2019 when we went to Europe. I had set a goal of climbing Arthur’s Seat, the hill/mountain/crag that overlooks Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s a pretty long uphill for me since I am used to walking on primarily flat streets and trails. So about a month before we left, I put on my hiking boots and started doing this same trail on a regular basis. It really helped as I was able to climb Arthur’s Seat at dawn and take some incredible pics…even with my knee in a brace.
We have also tried to do sleep training in the past. Notice I said tried. I have read about people who will stay up late or get up early to adjust their sleep schedule to their destination. That way they don’t lose one or two days at the start of a trip to just trying to stay awake. We tried to do this on the first few trips we took but since we have been able to fly business or first class we haven’t worried about it as much. When we fly to Europe now we love to take off in the early evening (like most non-stops do from Seattle), have dinner and then go to sleep. But that only works for me if I have a lie-flat seat like you get in international business or first class. (Ah, the joys of having a lot of miles.)
Of course part of our training for a big trip is to diet. I hate dieting but I know there is good chance I will gain weight on any kind of trip, so we try to cut back in the weeks before knowing we need to do that to even it off. But the physical training can help with that as well. Let me know in the comments if you do anything like this to get your body ready for the rigors of travel.
Bragging begins here so ignore it if you want to
Just a few quick words about something that I have been doing the last four years and an app recommendation to go with it. You all know (just by reading this post) that I have been walking…A LOT since this (the pandemic) all started. I was actually doing some long walks before it started but just once or twice a week. Since last March I have been walking pretty much six days a week alternating between four and six miles every other day.
How do I know how far I am going? Because I found this awesome FREE app from Under Armour (the fitness clothing company) called Map My…Walk (or Run, Bike Ride or anything else you want it to keep track of distance-wise). Everyday when I go out to walk, the app comes along with me on my phone or Apple Watch. I start it up when I leave the house and it tracks me as I walk. One of the things I love is that it measures how far I go by GPS tracking as opposed to steps. Since I am tall, I take longer steps than most people so if it measures steps (like most apps), I have to go further (for ME) to do the same distance. Here’s today’s walk at right.
The app also announces my miles to me as I am going. At the end of each mile the app says into my AirPods, “Distance—two miles, time—31 minutes, average pace—15. something minutes per mile (I do my best to stay under 16 minutes per mile), split pace (my last mile) 16 minutes per mile (went up a hill or stopped to take a pic). It is a great way for me to keep track of my pace and my distance.
One other thing that I love about the app is that it not only keeps track of how far I have walked today but once I am home, I can save my walk and it uploads to the Map My Walk website where I can access it whenever I want. That means I can go back and find out how many miles I have walked over a particular time. Here are my May walks.
Since the website shows me my distance and workouts/walks by month I decided to add up those months and see how far I had walked over two different measures of time. I wanted to know how far I had walked since I found the app in 2017 and how far I have walked since the pandemic started when I really started increasing my distance and the number of days I am walking. I have to say—it really surprised me. As of today, since March 3 (the day we came home from our Mardi Gras cruise that we mark as the start of Covid for us) I have walked 2,817 miles (that’s 4,533 kilometers for those of you in Canada 😀).
I started using the app in August of 2017. Since then I have walked 4,168 miles (again, that’s 6708 in Canadian). Did I mention that the app and all this tracking are FREE! Yup, it’s a free app available on the App Store but one I would gladly pay for. They do have an upgraded version you can pay for but I am very happy with the one I have.
The funny part about all this walking is that my dad used to walk like this. He did about 5 miles a day since he retired in his early 70s and we used to kid him that he just did it to get out of the house and away from our Mom for a few hours a day. And here I am doing the same thing…except I am doing it to keep myself sane and to eat like I want to. I tell Kathleen it gives her a chance to have her boyfriend come by 😜.
I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’
Hello again! Sorry about no posts but it is kind of hard to write about travel when NO ONE is traveling. And it looks like it will be awhile until any of us do. Personally, our August Celebrity Flora cruise in the Galapagos was cancelled. We immediately rebooked for next year when we sail on the 4th of July. Our next chance for travel is our European Christmas Market river cruise in December. We shall see what happens but we are now thinking we may be taking that one in 2021 as well.
So let’s talk about off-season travel. I was posting on Instagram this morning and I added the photo at right and explained where it was and how I took it. Here’s what I said:
“Many people who have been in this hallway will recognize it but everyone I have ever shown it to is blown away—that it is empty. This is the hallway that leads from the Vatican Museums to the Sistine Chapel. People who see this shot are amazed that it is not PACKED with people. And it was completely packed about three minutes later. This is photographic testament to the idea of going off-season (it was mid-November) and getting up early (we were the first one in line when the museum opened). This also meant that for a few brief moments, we were ALONE in the Sistine Chapel (where they do not allow photos). It was an amazing experience. We had the same experience the next November in the Louvre while in Paris where we stood, all by ourselves, in front of the Mona Lisa for about three minutes when we were the only ones in the room.”
We love to travel off-season. We have had some of our best vacations when we go in the shoulder seasons in the spring and fall. The weather is usually OK for touring—we have been able to dodge bad weather. We were also lucky enough that Kathleen could take vacation-time when she wanted and owning my own business, I could schedule around times we wanted to go. And now that Kathleen is retired and I am headed that way, we try to never go when everyone else would be there.
One thing we would never do is go to Europe in the middle of summer. We will admit we have done European cruises in August but that was because that is the ONLY time you can see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (which was totally worth it) but never on a land trip. Not only is the weather a bit hot for our taste (it gets hot walking around) but there are so many people touring that you spend too much time standing in line. If you want to see the real Alaska on a cruise, go early in the season or late.
While we have enjoyed our June and July Alaska cruises we have truly loved our late August, early September Alaskan cruises when there are less people. And our BEST Alaska cruise ever was when we cruised there in late April. The weather was OK (especially the last day when we sailed through the Canadian Inside Passage) and we could walk everywhere in Skagway, Ketchikan and Juneau without feeling crammed. It was awesome. We were the only ship in port in some places while in July, there would have been three or four ships in port which means almost 12,000 people in a town of 1,500 (in the case of Skagway) which is crazy crowded.
Another thing we suggest is getting up early. Go out early, be first in lines. Then go back to your room, stateroom or wherever you are staying and take an afternoon nap and then you can go back out in the evening. You will see so much more. We did exactly the same thing when we went to Disneyland with our grandkids a few years ago. We got up early, hit the major rides, then went back to our rooms and took a nap (especially the kids) before going back for parades and fireworks.
So some advice for your future traveling…when you can, go off-season and get up early.
I am a family man, and I have to find my priorities. During the season, it is to race. During the off-season, it is to spend time with my family. —Jens Voight
The 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
In 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
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
Want 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 byclicking 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
Lately I have been doing a lot of planning for our upcoming trips. We are currently snowed in so that gives me time to catch up on a lot of things. Since I have been doing this I thought I would give you a little insight into how I plan travel.
First we decide where we want to go. Often this is spur of the moment. In the case of booking our next trip, our cruise on Celebrity’s Reflection to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we decided to do this trip almost three years ago when we were onboard Celebrity Solstice sailing to Alaska with our Martini Mates. We booked it because we wanted to go to New Orleans (one of the few US cities on our list that we haven’t been to yet) and going during Mardi Gras is a big bonus. So we started planning this that long ago.
When we first book a cruise or decide we are going to go someplace, I make a list of everything I need to do for that trip. I will usually do this in my packing program (Packing Pro) that has a place for tasks as well as packing lists. This includes booking the cruise and flights to get there. Then I get on my Mac and go the King County Library website and search for all the travel guides they have about that place. I place them on hold and they ship them to my local library.
When I tell people I do this, they ask why don’t I just buy the books in paperback or Kindle editions? Because nothing gets out of date like a travel book. That’s why people like Rick Steves and Fodors, Blue Planet, Top Ten and Frommers do a new/update about most places every year. Hotels, restaurants, tour companies all open and close so why should I spend money to buy them when our library does a great job of keeping up. I have about six books on the Galapagos, Portugal, Budapest, Vienna and Prague in the house right now and all of them are 2018 and 2019 editions. If I like one a bunch and want to refer to it again and again, then I will buy it. Usually the Kindle edition because then I can have it on my phone when we are traveling.
About this time is when I do my preliminary research. I am looking for the best part of town to book pre and post cruise hotels (or in the case of a land trip, just hotels) as well as trying to find out if we want to rent a car or rely on public transportation and if we need restaurant reservations to get into the places we would love. I will usually get books from the aforementioned Rick Steves (great for restaurants and tours but he and I never agree about hotels), Frommers, Fodor, Lonely Planet, Top Ten and Eyewitness.
I won’t read every page in the books but I will peruse all of them to see what they mention as top destinations, lodging and restaurants. If a few mention the same places as being great, they usually are. At that point if I am going to do hotels, I then check with friends who I know have traveled to that place. My first stop is ALWAYS the website of our good friend Mike Preisman. Mike not only picks great places, he does a great job of giving you his opinion of them and has really great photos of them as well. I know from experience if Mike liked a hotel, I am going to like it and it will be a good value. And I can be sure his photos will show me what a hotel room really looks like.
After checking with friends, it’s time to book hotels or, in some places, AirBnBs. Before I do that, I will have looked at every actual hotel website as well. Then I have my travel agent do the booking 😜 (that would be me).
11 months before we travel (especially true for international travel) I start looking for airfare. We have been very lucky in that up to this point when we travel internationally we have been able to use miles/points to buy all our tickets since our first two trips. Getting those can be a challenge because there is less and less availability than there used to be. More people with more miles competing for the same seats. That means I start as early as I can. We are going to Europe for a river cruise in December and the hunt for air will start in early February. In case you don’t know this, 11 months is usually the earliest you can book a flight.
Another thing we have to decide before we book a flight is where do we want to go before we go where we want to go. I really did mean to type that. Many times we are taking a cruise but we may want to go someplace else first. For instance, last summer we were taking a cruise from Dublin to Iceland and back. But it was just an 11 day cruise and Europe is way too far to go and use our valuable miles to just take an 11 or 12 day vacation. Plus since we are semi-retired we can spend more time away from home. So as we planned this trip, we decided that instead of flying directly to Dublin, we would fly to Edinburgh, spend four days and then a train to York and six days with our Leeds buddies before we flew to Dublin for the cruise. We have to decide all that before we book air. Lots of research.
Once the cruise is booked (if this trip involves a cruise) and the airfare purchased and hotels reserved, I start with the sites we want to see. We do a lot of research on those as well using notes I made from the books (Kathleen and I share notes on our Apple devices about our trips), websites (especially Mike’s) and other recommendations on what to see. Then I create a Google map. I have done one for every major trip we have taken. I put our lodging on the map first and then all the places we want to see while there. I use a different layer for every city on the same trip. So for instance on our Mardi Gras trip we are going to Sarasota and Boynton Beach pre-cruise and then New Orleans, Costa Maya and Cozumel. So each of those places has its own layer with all the places we want to see. To get an idea of this, you can click here to see this one.
Once we have seen where everything is, we start planning our day…or I do. Kathleen seems to like where I decide to go and she does contribute places she wants to see if I have missed them.
All the way through this process I have been adding these to my TripCase app on my phone. You can find the one by clicking here. It keeps track of everything I book. Some of it automatically. For instance, when I buy my air, I just send the confirmation e-mail to TripCase and the schedule is automatically added. It places everything in one place for that trip and, when we are traveling, everything is in once place and as long as I have synched it while we have internet access, I don’t need to have access again to get to all my info. One of my favorite Canadian readers told me about it and I can’t thank her enough. It has been awesome.
All this time, if we are going on a cruise, we are posting on the Cruise Critic Roll Call for the cruise trading info and getting suggestions about things to see and do and having people ask if we want to share tours and day trips.
At this point, we are just about ready to go. The only other thing I sometimes do (if we will be doing any driving) is stop by AAA and grab some actual paper maps (yes, I still use those—it gives me a better overview) of where we will be driving as well as put all the places we want to drive through into our Garmin GPS (yes, I still have one of those because I like it better than my phone).
I welcome your comments or questions on this process. I should add that we have lots of friends and relatives who travel with us who rely on us to plan the trips and we are happy to do so. The fact that I love doing this is one of the reasons I love being a travel agent. And I love planning travel for anyone and everyone.
My father’s plan was, we were going to grow up and travel the world.
—Philippe Cousteau, Jr.
Just want to say that I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. What I do believe in is New Year’s goal setting. So I have been doing mine this past week and things are looking good. Of course like everyone else I know—I would love to lose weight. And I have a continuing goal of learning new things. I want to be a better photographer, a better cook and to get better with technology. And I have to find a way to deal with logins and passwords 😜. They are my nemesis.
But the one goal both Kathleen and I have this year is to TRAVEL! To lots of places. If you have been following this blog during 2019 you will know that we lost two of our beloved Martini Mates. After losing Carol and Sandra, Kathleen and I decided that we should not put off some of the travel we kept saying we would do…someday. So far this year we have the following planned:
Late February/Early March—Sarasota, Florida and a Celebrity cruise to New Orleans for Mardi Gras
One of the few major cities we have not been to in the US is New Orleans. We were looking for a way to go there and spend a few days and see the city. When we heard about this cruise we thought, what a great way to see it. Then we heard that it was going during Mardi Gras. After our experience going to Edinburgh during the Fringe and Military Tattoo we thought AWESOME!
Just so you don’t think that we are nuts to go to New Orleans on a cruise ship, we are there for almost three full days, docked right downtown just blocks from the Mardi Gras parades. And yes, we fully realize that there will be crazy crowds and it will make it hard to get into restaurants but anytime we want to, we can head back to the ship and get away from it all. Besides New Orleans and Mardi Gras we also get two other ports, a cruise and we are going with a bunch of friends.
Pre-cruise we are going to Sarasota, Florida with our buddies Bob and Judy. The cruise is only 11 nights so we could not see just flying all the way to Florida for just those 12 days. Since we had been to the Keys a few years back pre-cruise we were looking for someplace else to explore. About five years ago I spent three days in Sarasota teaching a workshop and I was really impressed so we decided to go there first, then rent a car and drive down to the Fort Lauderdale area the day before the cruise. We will stay with our awesome buddy Mike pre-cruise and then he is coming with us on the cruise as well.
Late April—Pacific Coastal cruise from San Diego to Vancouver, BC on Holland America’s Koningsdam
You may remember that our good friend Seth Wayne (the guy who I did all the radio shows with). Well, he has left KOMO television and radio and taken a position with Holland America Cruises as their new Director of Communications/Brand Ambassador. In that new job he will be doing a lot cruising and this is one of the ones he will be on so we thought, why not run down to Southern California, see my brother and his wonderful bride (who is now RETIRED) and then sail to Vancouver and take the train home from there.
Besides the fact that we will be onboard with Seth, this will be a learning cruise for us as Koningsdam is an entirely new class of ships that we have never been on so we will love that part. It’s only a four night cruise but it should be a lot of fun. And I forgot to tell you all the exciting new ports we will visit between San Diego and Vancouver, BC. That’s because there aren’t any. On those four nights, we only stop once—in Seattle. LOL
Late July/Early August—Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands
This is the BIG trip of 2020! We are flying down to Southern Cal again to see my brother and his bride for a few days before we fly Copa Air through Panama City to Quito. We are there for two nights before we fly out to the Galapagos Islands and board Celebrity’s tiny (only 100 passengers) ship, Flora. On Flora we will sail around the islands for seven full days, only getting off on Zodiacs with naturalists as our guides. I have started following Marvi Cordova on Instagram. She works on board Flora and take the MOST AMAZING PHOTOS of the ship and of the wildlife on the islands. If you want to see what we will be seeing and what I will be posting to this blog, check out her gorgeous photos.
Late September—Pacific Coastal cruise on Celebrity Eclipse with Bob and Judy
We are always looking for a chance to get away and a chance to get on a cruise ship. When it leaves from Vancouver or Seattle, that is really a big plus because we don’t have to fly anywhere. And we are always looking for a reason to sail with Bob and Judy. This five night cruise does stop in a few places—like Astoria, Oregon, Seattle and Victoria. But since we don’t have to fly at all, this one will give Bob and I a chance to get our tuxedos out of mothballs and formal around a little bit. We like that kind of thing. 😀
Early December—Our first river cruise on Viking to see the European Christmas Markets
This is one we have been planning for quite awhile. You have to if you want to sail with Viking because they do sell out quickly and early. We are going with our traveling buddies my brother Steve and his bride Jamie. Jamie’s brother and sister-in-law are also coming along.
We start with three nights before the cruise in Prague, then we join the boat (and it is a boat because it is small enough to go ON a ship) in Nuremberg, Germany where we will visit our first Christmas Market, the oldest of them all. Then it’s on to Regenburg and Passau Germany, Krems and Vienna Austria and finally we finish in Budapest, Hungary. We spend two nights after the cruise in Budapest and then we are deciding where to go next because we will NOT fly all the way to Europe for less than two weeks. It just isn’t worth it to us to go that far and spend that much on airfare and then stay for less than that. We are still debating between three days in Paris or three days in Lisbon.
We would love to have anyone out there who wants to, to come and join us on any of these trips. You can make your own arrangements or call your favorite travel agents (that would be us, right). We promise lots of FUN!
So that’s it! It’s quite the year and I am sure that in between these major trips we will fit a few smaller ones like a hockey excursion to Chilliwack, BC or a wine sojourn to the east side of the mountains. You know us, we hate sleeping in our own beds.
Wherever you go, go with all your heart.—Confucius
Yesterday we were talking to someone about using AirBnB or just vacation rentals instead of hotels and I was telling them why we have pretty much stopped staying in hotels and just stay in vacation rentals now.
Here’s why we have pretty much switched to AirBnB type rentals:
Different rising times. Most of my regular readers know that I get up early (really early—like 3:30 or 4:00 am) and Kathleen likes to sleep in (6:30 or 7:00). When we are in a hotel room, all I can do is lay there and look at the darkness but when we are in an AirBnB there is usually a living room where I can go and sit and read, work on my photos from the vacation we are on or get dressed to go workout.
Check-in is usually a piece of cake. We have done 15 AirBnBs so far and have only met humans twice. Usually they will send you a key code you can use on the front door or on a lock box where the key is.
Check out is just as easy. You just leave the key or lock the lock and you are gone. If you are nice person, you can e-mail or text them and let them know you are out so they can send their cleaning crew.
You can sometimes get in early. We have had great hosts who will text us when the unit is ready. One guy in Tucson sent me a note around noon telling us that if we wanted to get in, the place was ready. I love that.
You can communicate entirely by e-mail or text. No phone calls which is my preference. I think I have only talked on the phone to three of the 15 hosts we have stayed with.
You can save some money by eating some meals in the unit because most have kitchens and dining rooms. Even if you just have breakfast (we have done that) it can save you money or be easier. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a coffee maker you have access to.
Most AirBnB’s have a washer and dryer which is great if you are traveling on longer trips. That means for a two week trip you only have to pack one week’s worth of clothes. When we did our New England trip last year we had been on the road for ten days before we got to our AirBnB in NYC. After four days in NYC we were going on a cruise. It was great to get on the cruise with clean clothes.
They are GREAT for groups. One of the best things about an AirBnB (as opposed to a hotel) is that when you are traveling with other people and you aren’t doing anything, everyone is in the same place. You have a nice living room to sit in and just talk, especially if you are coming from different places and haven’t seen each other in a while. Plus you have a fully-equipped kitchen you can do breakfast or snacks in. It’s a great way to go. We had an AirBnB in Dublin last summer that slept 8 so when my brother, his wife, their daughter, my sister-in-law’s sister and her husband and daughter joined us, we got to have this experience. It was great to have a place to just sit and talk…or play games.
Some tips for booking an AirBnB
If you haven’t booked one yet, I will tell you some tips that Kathleen’s daughter and son-in-law (who have used it for years) told us when we started booking them and that we have learned from booking ours. These rules may not apply to all rental sites. My daughter has used VRBO, we never have. We use AirBnB pretty exclusively.
Always look at the photos of the unit. If there aren’t photos of most (if not all) rooms, move on.
Read the reviews. AirBnB will not allow owners to remove bad reviews (owners can respond to them, but not remove them). Pay special attention to mentions of cleanliness. Most people who stay in AirBnBs will write reviews. The owners will also review you when you do and you can’t see each other’s reviews until you both have submitted them. When you go to rent in the future, other owners can look at your reviews and turn you down (maybe you left a place a mess, had a big party, etc.). It’s a good system.
If it sleeps a bunch of people, make sure there are enough bathrooms. Some of the older homes have 4 bedrooms and one bath. Yikes. We always look for at least one bath per family. When we did Dublin we had three couples and two of them had a 20 something child with them. So we needed four bedrooms and 3 baths.
Check the number of beds/bedrooms. If you have four couples in our age group, they may not be thrilled with bunk beds.😀
Make sure the unit is where you want to be—close to the action. When it comes to location, most will NOT tell you an exact address before you book but they will tell you a general neighborhood and show you a map with a circle that the rental will be in. That can help if you know the neighborhood. We had friends stay here in one who didn’t ask us about the neighborhood and wound up in a part of town I wouldn’t park my car overnight in. You can also look at street views on Google Earth which can give you some idea what you are getting into. If you are coming to Seattle and plan to rent one, just ask us.
The nightly rate quoted may not be the entire cost. Keep in mind that you will pay more than the nightly fee which is what they show to start. There is also a separate cleaning fee, service fee (I have no idea what this is for that isn’t cleaning, but they all charge it), Occupancy taxes and fees. Check out this example of the charges on a Seattle AirBnB.
The price may be different from one day to the next. One other thing to remember about the price: if you look at rental without putting dates in, you may find that when you do the price changes, sometimes dramatically. For instance, our last stay was in Walla Walla, on our wine tasting tour. We went with our neighbors in August for three days, mid-week and we rented at the last minute. The price for mid-week rentals in the heat of the summer and at the last minute was great! But in the spring or fall (peak months) and on a weekend, the price was literally double.
Set up an account before you look. When you go to the site, click the sign up link and put in your info. This will really help when you want to save particular rentals and come back to them.
Refine your search. When you know where you want to go, search for where you want to go,Then Click Dates, Guests, Type of Place (choose Entire Place) and go. That will show you only what you are looking for.
Save your favorites. Once you have refined your search, look at each one and save it to a favorite list by clicking the heart at the top of the page. When the site asks you which list to save it to, create a new one for the next place you are going. We have lists for all the cities we have stayed in (about 15).
Out of the 15 or so we have stayed in, we have only had one so-so experience (our first) and no bad ones. Here are photo (from their listings) of the places we have stayed. There are notes in the captions.
This place was in Charleston, SC
This is the living room of our huge AirBnB in Dublin, Ireland. We shared this with a total of 8 people.
Edinburgh, Scotland. We met the owners, a wonderful older couple who told us all about the neighborhood.
New York City. This condo was on the 22nd floor at the corner of 7th and 27th and only $165 a night. Beat that with a hotel.
This place in Palm Springs featured some amazing design.
Park City, Utah
Phoenix, AZ. This one was a condo that had two full bedrooms and two full baths. Really nice.
Maybe the best one we have ever had in Salt Lake City.
Right downtown San Diego, CA
The coolest house we ever had. A house once owned by a freed slave in Savannah, GA, fully restored.
We shared this one with our neighbors when we went to Walla Walla to taste wine.