Tonight just two quick things I want to share. The first is an awesome story about Viking Cruise Line’s ship that ran into trouble last week off Norway. If you missed it, I wrote about it late last week. Their crew and the whole company stepped up big time. You can click here to read the article. Worth the few minutes. Warning thought, it is a harrowing account. I would not have wanted to be on that ship. But I would have been thrilled by the way the crew onboard handled things.
Watching a big ship sail down a tiny canal
All through 2008 we were anxiously waiting the building and launching of Celebrity Cruise Line’s Solstice. This was not just a new ship, this was an entirely new class of ship. We (Kathleen and I) along with our Martini Mates were booked on Solstice’s 8th cruise in early March. So leading up to the launch we watched her being built at the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany. They had web cams all over her and we checked every day to see the progress. We would try to figure out where our staterooms were and how the rest of the ship was coming together. Finally, after waiting for months, they had the “roll out.”
They call it a roll out because the ship literally has to roll to the sea though some pretty tight places. We watched that journey on webcams and from people posting photos taken along the way. When ships roll out from Meyer-Werft they are quite a ways from the open ocean. It is really quite a site to see a GIANT cruise ship in a tiny little canal floating through farm lands. I bring this up because it happened again this week. It wasn’t a Celebrity ship but a Royal Caribbean ship. Their new behemoth, Spectrum of the Seas, is really something to see. And she was captured in a really cool YouTube video being towed out to sea. You can watch it all by clicking here. It’s one of those things that I find fascinating and you might too. It’s only a little over a minute.
We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend. — Robert Louis Stevenson
Sorry 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
You may have heard that late yesterday, the Oasis of the Seas, one of the largest cruise ships in the world is skipping a day at sea and coming home early due to…norovirus. I say you may have heard this because it was on all the nightly news on about every network and it will be covered by the other media. This is another thing I get asked about all the time by our non-cruising friends. “Aren’t cruise ships dirty? Everyone keeps getting that norovirus thing.”
Well I just have to say this…it’s the flu. The 24-hour stomach flu that you and I have been getting since we were kids. (See the CDC description here) But because people are in such close proximity to each other on cruise ships it tends to multiply a little quicker than other places. But not all other places. Schools are just as bad. Colleges, especially dorms and Greek houses. Then why do we only hear about it when it happens on cruise ships? My guess is that it’s because they actually do something about it on cruise ships. They take people home early. They stop and clean the entire ship. They sanitize beyond belief…because no one likes to be sick on vacation. Take it from someone who got a horrible cold on our last vacation, it’s a terrible place to get sick. All you want is your own bed, your own medicine, your own TV shows and books to distract you and you feel like you have to struggle through.
But it just frosts me that every time this happens, a huge deal is made about it. On the Oasis this time, 277 people are sick as of a day ago. 277 out of more than (counting crew) 8,000 (quoting ABC Evening News). And it makes headlines. Now let’s take any 8,000 random humans. My guess is that there are pretty close to that many of them sick at any given time. But because this happens on a cruise ship, we make a big deal about it.
Yes, Royal Caribbean did choose to cut the cruise short by one day so they can completely disinfect the ship. We have seen them do that and they do an awesome job. And yes, the people on the cruise will be disappointed. But Royal is refunding them for their entire cruise and they can take their next vacation pretty much free. And for all but 277 of those 5,000+ guests, they got a pretty decent vacation to start with and they get another one for free later on. Do you think if any of those folks had been on a land-based vacation at a hotel and they got the flu, that the hotel would have given them a free week’s stay? I doubt it.
So the next time you see a news report that there is a norovirus outbreak on a cruise ship, just remember this message—It’s the flu. Brought to you by this guy who loves to cruise.
So a couple of days ago I gave you the first half of how we wound up in the travel business…this fast. As I mentioned in my first “How did this happen” post, we were just going to start training last January and Kathleen might get into the actual business in March or April and I would follow when my time with my other business was over in two or three or more years. But a year ago, on Christmas Eve (2017), we met two of our favorite people for breakfast at my favorite breakfast place, Lola in downtown Seattle.
First let me introduce these two guys—Seth and Jason. We first met Seth on Twitter about six years ago when he moved from Eugene to Seattle to become the morning weather person on KOMO television news. From the start he would talk about cruising and traveling on the air so we started following each other on Twitter and then he followed us and we began a dialogue that led to a friendship. In the morning when I would ride my exercise bike, Seth and I would text back and forth with Seth about cruising and travel because I might have been the only person texting him at 4:30 am. We had never met but we were becoming friends.
In November 2014 we (Kathleen and I) went on our second Panama Canal cruise with our buddies the Martini Mates. When we arrived in our stateroom on Celebrity’s Infinity in Fort Lauderdale we found two bottles of wine. One was from our travel agent at the time (the amazing Norma Jean) and the other was from Seth. He had tracked us down, ordered wine and had it delivered to us…and we had never even met him. What a guy.
When we returned from the Canal we thanked him and told him that we just had to meet sometime. About six months (and a lot texting and Twitter) later he asked us if we wanted to join him and his husband Jason for lunch on a Holland America cruise ship while it was in port for a media day. We jumped at the chance as we would finally be able to meet him and talk in person. Since then we have met up with Seth and Jason a whole bunch of times, they have been to our place, we have been to theirs and we have become friends.
Which brings us to last Christmas Eve. We had told the guys that we had a surprise to tell them about when we met. You see the biggest thing that Seth and I have in common is that we both LOVE to plan travel. We will literally both grab computers after dinner and price airfare just for fun (seriously…much to Kathleen and Jason’s exasperation). When we met, that morning we told them we were going to be travel agents/consultants with Expedia.
They were thrilled for us and Seth asked me a kind of a strange question. He asked, “Will you be doing group travel?” I told him, “I guess we will. We haven’t really started yet.” That was the extent of it. We spent the rest of breakfast just talking about travel and stuff as we always do.
Then about 10 days later, Seth called me and asked if now that we had started our training, if we would be willing to help him plan and book a cruise for some friends to celebrate his 40th birthday in September 2018. He figured that we might end up with 20 or 25 people on a three-day Royal Caribbean cruise on Explorer of the Seas. First, I was beyond gratified that Seth would trust us with this. He has never been a huge fan of travel agents. His feeling was (and I can verify that it is the truth) that he knew more than they did about travel and cruising. Second, I was scared to death that we might screw it up. I had booked a bunch of cruises over the years but just for us. And I had never done a group. And we had done about three hours of training at that point. YIKES! But we said yes. How hard could it be? One of those situations where we didn’t know what we didn’t know.
The first thing I learned was…we couldn’t do it half way. We couldn’t book a group cruise with Kathleen starting in March or April or with me starting in 2021. We had to go all in right then. We really had no choice but to go all-in in when Seth invited more than 80 people thinking he would get 20-30 people and we wound up sailing in September with 62. If I do say so myself, the cruise was a HUGE success. There will be more about this cruise in future posts but for now, I just need to thank Seth and Jason for putting their faith in us. And for being our great friends.
Lastly, MERRY CHRISTMAS!
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” —Thomas Aquinas
Ok, so I know this is supposed to be about travel but I am still just using these posts for two reasons. The first is to continue to learn WordPress. The second is to get into the habit of writing every day which I plan to do for 2019. I promise to revert to more travel-worthy topics in the new year. Plus I promise to sneak some cruising stuff in here as well.
Yesterday our two grandchildren (and their parents) came to see us from East Wenatchee (about 120 miles away) to celebrate my birthday (a day late) and Christmas (five days early). You have to understand that these two (Mason and Maylee), are the light of our lives. Mason wasn’t feeling too well but Maylee was at her best. And as it happened, Kathleen wasn’t feeling too well either.
They usually come over sometime before Christmas so that we can do some kind of a Christmas event and then exchange Christmas and birthday gifts. Which brings me to the mention of cruising. Our birthday gift for them this year is that we are taking them on a seven day Alaska cruise this summer on Royal Caribbean’s (RCL) Ovation of the Seas. The grandkids have never been on a cruise but their parents did one on RCL for their honeymoon in 2005.
So for our Christmas event I took them (Kathleen stayed home with both a bad head and stomach ache) to Enchant at what is now T-Mobile Park (used to be Safeco Field). It was a pretty amazing light show but that was about it. We had a great time with the kids but if they do it again next year, it’s not worth going back. It’s a one-time thing.
And as I write this (about noon on Thursday) they have left to take our precious grandkids home. We miss them so much but we FaceTime with them twice a week and will see them again either in January or for Mason’s birthday in February.