Archive for the ‘tips’ Category

Who’s Who on a Cruise

I was asked recently what the differences are being the various server positions on a cruise.  While it can vary from cruise line to cruise line, there are general positions that are consistent between the lines.  The same goes for the entire hierarchy of the ship.  Some positions have a different title from cruise line to cruise line, but the duties are generally the same.

Let’s start from the top.  The Captain is the master of the ship.  He oversees all departments and he is in control of the ship at all times.  In fact, if the president of the cruise line is onboard, the captain is still in charge.  The only exception, and it really isn’t an exception, is that when coming and going to port, a pilot will get on and will assist and sometimes take control of maneuvering the ship, however, the captain is still in control of the ship.

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Why Don’t You Cruise?

Last week I attended a series of classes through Cruise Lines International Association and some of the things we learned made we wonder why people don’t cruise more often.  80% of the North American population has never been on a cruise.  Hard to believe?  For those of us who have cruised, it is very hard to believe.  Especially when you find out that 95% of cruise guests rate their cruise experience positively!

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The Race is On…

So I was using a “free” ticket for my current trip to Walt Disney World.  The only flight that I could use for the free flight was at 1:30 in the afternoon, getting into WDW at 10:30 at night.  It was free so who could complain.  The more I thought about it though the more I wanted to suck every last minute of vacation time out of my trip.  So I decided to risk it and try getting on an earlier flight by going stand by.

There were a few things to consider before taking on this stand-by challenge. The first was availability of the flights.  I had been monitoring the flights I wanted to get on for about 2 weeks prior to leaving.  I knew there were open seats.  One-way tickets were still available the day before so I was sure the flight I was wanting was not over sold.

The odd thing was I could not get the flights to book together on their booking engine.  I could book them as separate flights, but not together.  That seemed a bit odd to me, but sometimes common sense is not your friend in trying to understand the airline booking websites.  The next only remaining risk was the extremely short layover time.  To get to Orlando the earliest possible time, I would have to make an 18 minute layover.  18 minutes to get off my plane, find out the new gate, dash to the new gate, get to counter, ask to get stand by, get a seat assignment, and get on the plane.  I decided that getting closer is better than sitting at home for the morning. If I didn’t make it I would camp out, have a little breakfast and read.  But the challenge of making it happen was too tempting.

I considered the airport I was flying through, the time of year, and how reliable the airline is for on-time departures.  Using my favorite site (Kayak.com) I could see how reliable the flights were.  They had a decent enough track record for on-time departures.  I then thought about the time of year and the weather.  It’s May, so there should not be a need to de-ice the plane. (Although it has been rather cold in Iowa this spring so it would not surprise me if they got snow)  The last final risk factor was the airport.  I was flying through Milwaukee and not changing airlines.  Usually the gates for departures on the same airline are all located together in the airport.  It was not like I would have to dash across O’Hare or change concourses.  All the risks seemed to be in order.

One final thing to consider was luggage. If I were checking luggage I would have to get back to airport to pick it up.  Checked luggage would not make it with me.  Three days before leaving I did the packing dry run to calculate if I could get 11 days of clothes in a carryon.  Using the vacuum packing bags and being a guy who was determined to streamline and make it work, I got it all in.  I even had room to spare in the suitcase.  (I needed to think about having extra room since I knew I would be bringing home more than I took and somehow dirty clothes seem to take up more room than clean ones).

So all the risks are calculated and challenge stand-by was a go.  So I had one of my best friends take me to the airport at 4:45 am.  The counter and security open at 5 am so I would be ready.  I got to the counter and asked to get stand-by.  The quirks of the online booking system were also happening at the airport.  Eventually with 3 agents work, they could get me on the first flight.  I was even able to get a seat in the front of the plane to make my fast dash off.  The problem was the second leg of the trip.  I had 3 options. My first choice was the 18 minute layover, but would get me into Orlando before noon.  Their system would not let them book it with that short a layover.  Plan B was having a 4 hour layover and getting into Orlando at 5:30 pm.  Plan C was I am on my original flight and getting in at 10:30 at night. They said if everything went well I could hit the gate and try standby when I got to Milwaukee.

When I got on the first flight I hit my first potential glitch.  I was getting on a regional jet to Milwaukee.  You know, one of those tiny planes.  It doesn’t pull up for a jetway, you have to climb down the stairs built into the door.  If I had to gate check my bag that would slow down my time.  I had my standard rolling carryon which is too big for the overhead bins.  Everything is too big for those bins.  I was able to get it under my seat and the plane was not full so I had 2 seats to myself for the flight.  Everything was on time.  We landed and then the race began.

I was the first off, dashed into the terminal and sprinted up the stairs.  I located a ticket agent and found out the gate for my Orlando flight.  I arrived at gate 24 in Milwaukee; the Orlando flight was departing at gate 21. I could see the gate and the door was open but no one was loading, there was no line.  I then hear the announcement for final boarding call.  My heart skipped a beat.  I’m close, so close.  I race to the counter in the classic OJ Simpson commercials of the 70s.  The agent is able to get me on and gave me a seat assignment.  I even get exit row for a little more leg room.  Coming in right behind me was a family of 5, and we were the last ones on with the door closed behind us.  I considered doing the touchdown dance down the aisle of the plane to celebrate the victory, but since I was getting the dirty look of “we had better not been sitting here waiting for you to get on” from other passengers, I decided against it.

As I got on the plane I knew it was going to Orlando, it’s was half full of kids (4 screaming babies), and announcement of a passenger with a nut allergy so no nuts allowed on the plane.  These are the telltale signs that you are on a flight to Orlando.  I grabbed my seat and proceed to take a nap.  The challenge accepted and pulled off.  I wonder if I should have videoed this so I could become a contestant on the Great Race.

Tips if you want to try going stand by.  Be prepared to have it fall through and spend some quality time in an airport.  Don’t do it if you have to be to your destination by a specific day and time.  Be aware that checked luggage most likely would not make it with you at the same time/flights.  Keep an eye on the weather and if there have been lots of delays there will be a lot of people trying to get out on stand by.  Also 1 or 2 people going stand by is possible, getting your family of 4 stand by on all legs of a trip is very difficult.

Cruising 101, Part 4

If you missed the first parts of our Cruising 101, you can find them here:

Typical First Day Onboard

Welcome Aboard!  Well almost.  So what should you expect on the first day of your cruise?  When do you get to the port?  What will happen?  Here is a typical breakdown of what happens.

Let’s assume for the purposes of this blog that you are very excited and want to get to the port early.  If you arrive at the port after boarding begins, the start of this blog won’t totally apply, but you’ll get the idea.

In nearly every case, the ship you are embarking on will be coming into port in the morning of your cruise and other passengers will be disembarking.  Because of this, you are not allowed into the cruise terminals until later in the morning.  This varies from port to port, but is generally no earlier than 10:00 am.  You can usually wait outside of the terminal, but you may be doing so for a long time.  Your luggage will not be taken by the porters until a certain time as they are busy with the guests disembarking.

That being said, we have arrived at the port as early as 7:15 am when we were very excited for a Panama Canal sailing.  There are usually no places to sit down outside or bathrooms that you can use until you get in to the terminal so keep this in mind.

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Cruising 101, Part 3

If you missed the first parts of our Cruising 101, you can find them here:

So now you have booked your cruise vacation.  What’s next?  There are a number of things to think about and plan before your actual cruise.

Prebooking Excursions/Spa Appointments/Specialty Restaurants

You will want to think about what “extras” you want to do onboard.  Most ships will have a spa and specialty restaurants, at which reservations are strongly recommended.  There will also be shore excursions that are available on a first come/first served basis.  You may consider booking these in advance.

Each cruise line has its own procedure for how these are done.  In most cases, your reservation must be paid in full before you can prebook these things.  With Disney for example, you must not only be paid in advance, but you must also be with a certain date prior to your cruise.  This date depends on the number of times you have cruised with Disney in the past (see Repeat Cruiser section below).

With some cruise lines, you will have to prepay for what you reserve in advance.  This was true with Celebrity when we cruised earlier this year.  With other cruise lines, you simply make a reservation and then once onboard, you will be charged.  You will want to check what the cancelation policy is with the shore excursions, spa appointments and specialty restaurant reservations that you make.

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Cruising 101, Part 2

If you missed Part 1, you can find the start of our cruising primer here https://travelonadream.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/cruising-101-part-1/.  And now on to Part 2!

Destinations

I left this out yesterday because there are so many different destinations to discuss and the blog was already getting very long so I saved this for today.

Pretty much anywhere you want to go in the world where there is water (ocean, large river), you can cruise.  Some obviously will be very small ships or boats, but you can cruise!  There are cruise lines that have cruises going to every continent on earth!

The most popular cruise destinations are the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Alaska.  There are many different cruise lines and ships with sailings in these areas.

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Cruising 101, Part 1

Many people are choosing to cruise as their choice of vacations these days.  It can be intimidating both for the new cruiser and the experienced cruiser however to book a cruise and then actually go on the cruise as there can be many differences between cruise lines and their policies/procedures.  I ran into this twice this year cruising on Celebrity and Norwegian cruise lines because I have cruised with Disney so many times, I just wasn’t sure about some things.

This blog will address many of the questions you may have regarding choosing a cruise, planning for the cruise, once onboard the cruise and disembarkation after the cruise.  The blog will be continued over a few days as there is so much information I don’t want to overwhelm you.  Once the topic has been covered, I will be including a link to our website with all the information there.  This will allow you to search for particular topics and allow us to update the information as necessary.  Please post questions that you may have so that we can answer them as well. Continue reading

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