Welcome to JKTravelRedmond.com

IMG_2094For my regular readers, sorry to use the same photo again but I am expecting at least a few new readers today when Adventures Await runs at 4:00 on KOMO Radio. (If you would like to listen, click here).

To everyone else, especially all the new folks I hope will stop by, WELCOME! It’s great to have you here. If you dropped by to see the list of apps that Seth and I talked about, then you can click HERE to see the full list of apps.

Then if you are new here (or even if you aren’t), I invite you to click on the About Us link above to meet Kathleen (she’s K of JK) and I. Full disclosure: when you read that you will find that besides writing about travel, and talking to Seth about travel, Kathleen and I are travel agents with Expedia Cruise Ship Centers in Redmond. I am proud to be Seth’s personal travel agent as well. If you are interested in us helping you travel, check the Contact page and drop us a note.

If you would like to read about the places we have been, I usually create an entire website about each trip from before I started writing this blog. You can find that, as well as a lot more, at our personal website that you can get to by clicking here.

If you love talking about travel as Kathleen and I do, we would love to have you subscribe and come back. You can subscribe on the right of this page. I try to post once or twice a week so I don’t overwhelm you but I will warn you that when we travel, I pretty much post every day. (Expect that the October 3-13 as we head to Fort Lauderdale to sail on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.) For instance, if you click here you will see the story of our most recent big trip to Scotland, England, Ireland and Iceland in June 2019 and if you click here you can see our full report on our July cruise to Alaska with our grandkids on Ovation of the Seas.

Lastly, if you have another travel app you love, please tell me about it in the comments. If Seth and I do another show about apps, I promise to give you full credit if I love the app.

No one is perfect, and criticism is always welcome and expected.—Amitabh Bachchan

On the radio…talking travel…again

IMG_2094This afternoon Kathleen and I headed into downtown Seattle to KOMO radio where we met up with our good friend and KOMO-TV weather guy and KOMO radio travel expert Seth Wayne. A year ago today we were getting off Explorer of the Seas after celebrating his 40th birthday with 61 of his closest friends (which we are proud to be part of) so it was only fitting we meet up with him today to talk travel.

Seth does a weekly travel radio show on KOMO radio that you can listen to by clicking here at 4:00 any Sunday. It is also available via Tune-In by asking Alexa to “play KOMO Radio 1000.” She will grab the show for you from Tune-In.

Seth tapes the show earlier in the week and sometimes tapes more than one to be broadcast when he is traveling. Today was a day like that. We taped two shows, one on apps for travelers and the other on general travel topics (how to pick the right cruise, travel insurance, having a passport) and we had a great time doing it.

Tentatively the apps for travel show will air this Sunday, September 22nd at 4:00 on KOMO radio and the general travel show at the same time on October 12. I would love to have you tune in for either of them. I would also love to tell you that they would both be available as podcasts but that would be wrong since the people who do the podcasts at the station are kind of slow adding the shows…like a year behind. But never fear, if you are doing something else on Sunday (like watching the end of the Seahawks game) I will endeavor to tape it and put it online for you next week.

In the meantime, I promised on the air that I would put the list of apps we talked about as well as the ones we didn’t get to on this site. So if you click here you can go to the page where those apps are listed. Some will have links that you can go right to the app when I can find them. Otherwise, just search the App Store of your favorite phone or tablet.

I like to discover new things, and I’m always testing new apps. –Francois-Henri Pinault

 

We are almost gone

IMG_1736This is a picture I took yesterday because I found these (photo above) when I was looking for something else that I wanted to take with us tomorrow when we fly to Edinburgh. What you are seeing is the SeaPass card (combo room key and onboard credit card for you non-cruisers) from every cruise we have ever taken (except the one on Carnival we don’t tell anyone about). Starting in the upper left with our first Alaskan cruise on the old Holland America Westerdam in 2000 all the way through out Fall Foliage cruise last October on Celebrity’s Summit. Those SeaPass cards represent a lot of great times with a lot of great people.

The trip we leave on tomorrow will include our 26th cruise. Not as many as many of our friends (including our buddy Seth who has taken more than 65 cruises) but we think it’s pretty good. This time we will be adding a SeaPass card from Celebrity’s Reflection headed from Dublin to Belfast, on to two ports in Iceland and then back to Cork and Dublin Ireland before we fly home. Before we ever get to the cruise we will be staying five nights in Edinburgh, six nights with our fellow Martini Mates, Paul and Gail in the Yorkshire region of England and then three nights pre-cruise in Dublin,. Lots of travel and that’s just how we like it.

We invite you to join us as I will try my best to (and since I won’t spend my entire days driving like I did in Arizona) post some pics and notes every day we are on the road. So come back here often and let us know what you think by commenting.

Enthusiasm is excitement with inspiration, motivation, and a pinch of creativity.
—Bo Bennett

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

Beyond frustrated or why I hate Costco

Frustration.jpgOn Thursday a very nice young lady called the agency and said she had driven by and seen our sign and could someone help her with some questions she had about taking a cruise. Actually, the cruise wasn’t for her, it was for her 70+ year old Mom and Dad and two of their friends who would be visiting her this summer from Japan. They wanted to take a cruise-tour to Alaska and since she (nor they) had ever cruised, she wanted to come in and discuss it. I told her “we are here to help.

About two hours later she came in and we had a very nice talk. I found out a bunch of stuff about what her parents and their friends were looking for in the way of a cruise. I told her that I thought I had all the info I needed and that I would have some options for her before this weekend was over.

This morning she e-mailed me some additional comments and we went back and forth with questions and answers until she used that horrid word that I have learned to hate…Costco.

I have a huge love-hate relationship with Costco. I have been a member forever. We probably spend thousands of dollars there every year. We get all our gas there, we get most of our grocery staples, most of our meat, all our paper goods and a bunch of other stuff from them. Heck, my son has worked at Costco for almost 20 years. But when someone mentions them when talking about travel, it drives be nuts. Especially someone like this young woman.

Her question was typical, “I see that if I buy the cruise from Costco, they will give me a Costco gift card for $350. Can you match that with a discount?” The answer is no, we can’t. And we shouldn’t. Costco uses travel as a loss leader and another way to serve their membership. It’s the way Costco pretty much does everything. The prices are lower to us because they make much of their money selling memberships and they make a bunch more selling prime space in their stores to companies. You know that big line of products on the left when you go into a Costco? The companies that make those products pay Costco to be there. As well they should. It’s prime real estate and the fact that their product is there and not on a shelf in the back means they will sell a BUNCH of extra product.

But Costco should not be in the travel business. Not because they compete unfairly (which they do) but because the people you are dealing with when you buy travel from them don’t have a clue about what they are selling.

If you think about it, Costco people seldom have a clue about what they are selling  product-wise. My son is in the “Majors” department. That’s the one that sells TVs, computers, etc. He knows that stuff. He ought to after almost 20 years. But if you go into his department when he isn’t there, you might end up talking to a new employee that started last week about exactly which TV or computer you are going to buy. Now this if just fine if you know exactly what computer you want. If you know how much RAM, whether you want a traditional hard drive or an SSD or one of many decisions you need to make to buy a computer. If you are ready to make the purchase and have done all your research and you feel like you are an expert—buy it. But if you have no clue about computers, and if you are a smart buyer, you either wait until my son is there (LOL) or you go someplace that knows about computers.

This is even more true when it comes to cruises. If Costco wants to sell car rentals and flights and hotels, that’s fine. Those things really don’t have many variables, while cruises do. If you are going to rent a car, you rent a car. You know what a Ford or a Honda are. If you want to book a hotel and you see a Hyatt on an online website, then you pretty much know what you are getting (although a good travel agent would know about good restaurants and sights near a hotel that was just as nice.)

When you buy a cruise from Costco you are buying it either online or from someone on the phone. If online then you better know exactly what you want stateroom-wise, exactly which ports you want to go to, exactly what perks you are getting, which dining plan you want, etc. Cruises have hundred of variables. But if you don’t, you are in trouble. And this nice young lady who came in to buy her parents a cruise said exactly that, “I don’t know anything about cruises.” If she decides to buy one from Costco online, she will be in trouble.

Let’s say she decides to make a phone call and talk to someone instead of buying her travel online? Will she talk to someone who knows all about cruising? Probably not. In fact my guess is that she will probably talk to someone who has NEVER been on a cruise. Not one. Sure, they may have read some brochures or studied the websites of the cruise lines they sell but have they sailed 20+ times? No. They work in a big phone room (you can’t go to your local Costco and book a cruise—you can only do it online or on the phone), where the next person who calls gets the next employee who is free to answer.

Of course this means when you call back because you need to make a change or something is a problem, forget trying to deal with the first person you talked to (“Can’t I talk to Joe, I really liked him so much when I called last time.”), that person may not even work there any longer. If the turnover at the Costco travel phone room is anything like the turnover at your local Costco, who knows who you will be talking to and what their level of expertise is. And imagine that this nice ladies parents (who, according to what she told me, speak Japanese predominantly) have a problem in boarding or anywhere along their way and they try to call Costco for help. They will get connected to the next person who answers the phone. Then they will get to explain their problem all over again. If they book with us and there is a problem, they will call me. I will know their circumstances and I will deal with the situation. And if I am not here, Mark

I have written before about my friend Seth Wayne. Next to Rick Steves he is probably Seattle’s number one travel expert. When it comes to cruising he even knows more than Rick. Before Kathleen and I got into the travel business he pretty much did not use a travel agent. He and I had discussions about this and his feeling was that he knew more than 95% of the travel agents he had met. As his friend and someone who he discusses travel with a lot, I agree with him. But that isn’t true of all travel agents and he knows that. That’s why when he found a travel agent who knew as much as he did, he started trusting him with his travel instead of booking it all online. (That would be me.)

You see Seth could book online if he wanted to because he is an expert. He knows if he is going to book a cruise, exactly what he will get from a particular cruise line (after 65+ cruises he should) and he knows exactly what to ask for if he buys it online. I have a lot of friends like Seth because we travel and cruise so much. They know what they want, they could book their travel themselves. But they don’t anymore—I do. Because they know that besides knowing as much as they know about travel, I have the time to look at all kinds of options and catch things they might miss. Not because they don’t know those things but because they are so busy they would have missed them. Sometimes they catch things I miss and they call me and I get them what they caught.

This nice young lady who called me actually told me, “I don’t know anything about cruising.” Should she book online or with Costco? You tell me. Will her parents have a great cruise if she books online or with Costco? Maybe. Will it be as good a cruise as it would have been if I booked with my expertise and the combined expertise of my fellow agents in our office? Probably not. If they have a problem, will they have someone they have met face-to-face to stand up for them, to fix things, to make things right—NO!

When I started this rant, I thought this will help with my frustration but it hasn’t. I have e-mailed the young lady and told her we needed to talk before I did any options for her parents. I had to do this because after being burned recently by a prospective client who had me do hours of research to find just the right cruise for her husband and his father, they went off and bought it at Costco. That is crushing. And I have resolved to never do that again. So as soon as someone mentions the C word, I stop working altogether until I can have a discussion with them. That’s where I am now. I have tried to reach her to no avail and have left her messages and e-mails but have not heard back.

Too many people today know the price of everything and the value of nothing. —Ann Landers

Traveling Friends

Just a quick post on New Year’s Eve (or New Year’s Day depending on where you are). Which brings me to the subject of this post. Kathleen pointed out on Twitter this morning that we must be travelers because so many of our friends that are travelers. As I write this we have a bunch of our closest friends (who we met while traveling) who are celebrating the New Year in Ushuaia, Argentina (Hi Tim and Perry), Sydney, Australia (Hi Seth and Jason) and Agra, India (Hi Bob and Holly). We are here at home…having dinner with our next door neighbors who are also world travelers and will be off to Italy for the umpteenth time in just a few months.

If you travel, I guess your friends are travelers too. I like that. Our best wishes for a wonderful 2019 to all our traveling friends even if you are home and safe tonight. And for those of you who don’t travel—you should!

“To Travel is to Live” – Hans Christian Andersen

I’m on the radio…again

Seth1On Christmas Eve I wrote about how we got into the travel business so quickly because of a guy named Seth Wayne. I mentioned that Seth is the morning meteorologist on KOMO-TV here in Seattle. But he has another job. He hosts a weekly radio show all about travel. He has become the go-to guy for travel and cruising here in Seattle. His show, Adventures Await, is on KOMO radio every Sunday at 2:00 pm PST. If you aren’t here in Seattle to listen to it over the air, it is available online through TuneIn by clicking here. every Sunday. Even if I’m not on the show, it’s great with lots of super travel tips, interviews and facts.

Earlier this month Seth and I taped a show that was broadcast for the first time two weeks ago and because of the holidays, it was repeated again today. On the show he and I  discussed the upcoming 2019 Alaska cruise season. I thought the show went really great and I tried to tape it to put in on my website so that everyone could listen but due to technical difficulties it wasn’t on the web and the only radio we have in the house sounds like garbage. But it was rerun today and I grabbed it. You can listen to it on my JKBellomo site by clicking here. Please keep in mind that due to legal restrictions I have to leave the show as it is on the radio with all ads and news/weather/traffic but you can fast forward through those if you want to. Hope you like it if you get a chance to listen.

One last thing. You can also get the show as a podcast on iTunes. Just search iTunes on a computer or in the Podcast app on an iOS device for Adventures Await. But keep in mind that they are about three months behind in posting the episodes so my first show that was taped back in July just got posted recently.

 

How did this happen??? Part 2

Screen Shot 2018-08-07 at 4.15.09 PM
Meet Jason and Seth in one of their favorite places, on a trip.

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