VITAL INFORMATION for First Time Cruisers!

Cruise to Venice on Azamara or Royal Caribbean

Ciao everyone!

As you know, Pete, Andy and I here at Super Savvy Travelers, are masters and booking cruises and finding the best travel deals and experiences.

Whether you are interested in rock bottom pricing or loading up as many amenities as you can for a fair price, we are the truffle pigs of the cruising world and we can root out the best of the best for you.

That said, I spend a lot of time with first time cruisers explaining some basics about what to expect when you are cruising. Here are some points that you will want to remember when you call to book your first cruise.

cruisers
Cruising sights

The price you see on almost any website is not what you will be paying

The price you see on pretty much all web sites that offer cruises is called the lead in price. This is only the base price for the cabin per person. This DOES NOT include taxes and port fees which depending on the sailing can vary. Call us and we will get you the real price for comparison purposes.

Gratuities ARE NOT included 

Gratuities in cruising lingo are basically tips and they cover everything from waiters and waitresses, to cabin stewards to bar tenders. In short it covers anyone you would normally tip. Gratuities vary based on cruise line and cabin type. They are normally around $13.50-$17.50 per person per day.

You can pay the gratuities up front or pay them on the last day of your cruise.

If you had fantastic service from someone, please feel free to tip them in addition. On Azamara and Royal Caribbean Pete and I had amazing service from our cabin stewards so we gave them an extra tip. You don’t have to tip extra but you can.

Map
Photo credit Element 5 digital

Travel documents and your cruise account

Things have changed a lot since the early days of travel. We used to receive tickets and boarding passes in the mail or via Fed Ex.

This is no longer the case. Most cruise lines have websites set up to make it easy for you to check in (provide vital information the cruise line will need), down load your travel documents and purchase dining and beverage packages and shore excursions.

The websites are well set up and easy to manage. Pete, Andy and I are always ready to assist you to negotiate these sites if you need help.

The check in process requires that you enter credit card information. The reason for this is that when you board, you will receive a cruising card. With this card you will purchase everything that you purchase onboard the ship.

The cruise card is also vital as you will need it to get on and off the ship. The cruise lines keep close track of everyone so they don’t lose you. Make sure you keep your card in a safe place!

At the end of your cruise you will visit accounts on the ship and settle up for any extras you purchased while on the cruise. It is wise to keep track of what you are spending on board so that you are not surprised with a big bill at the end of you cruise.

Map
Photo credit Element5 Digital

Passports

Many closed loop cruise itineraries (Closed loop means it begins and ends in the same cruise port) do not require passports but you will need accurate travel documentation when you travel so it is best to check, check, double check before sailing and passports are the best documentation.

Your passport must valid for 6 months beyond your travel dates. Make sure you don’t need to renew before traveling.

Allianz who we use for travel insurance has a great blog post that goes over this. However if you are in doubt check with your travel professional. It would be extremely disappointing to arrive at your cruise port and not be allowed to board because your travel documents are not in order.

In addition, if you are not a US citizen, there may be certain visa requirements. Check with your embassy to ensure that you have what you need to travel.

Traveling With Children

If you are traveling with children or minors who are not your own, you will need special documentation (normally a notarized letter of authorization form the parents) stating that they are allowing you to take the child with you on the cruise. This is true even if you are the grand parent. Check with your travel pro again to ensure that you have everything you need to travel with the littles.

Element5digital
Thank you Element5 Digital

Traveling While Pregnant

If you are pregnant or planning to be while you cruise, be aware that certain airlines will not allow you to fly if you are in the final stages of your pregnancy. If there is a chance that you will get pregnant and your cruise is booked many months out, ensure that you get refundable deposits and trip insurance that will cover this if it occurs.

DUI’s and Felonies

If you have a DUI or a felony you may not be able to cruise to certain places. Canada has strict rules against allowing people with certain infractions into the country. Always check with your travel professional if you have DUI or felony on your record.

Pixabay
Photo credit Pixabay

Travel Insurance

I know that many people do not elect to purchase travel insurance as they have not factored that in as an expense.

I always carry travel insurance when I travel. Even if you are a lucky person or do not have many health issues, if something comes up in terms of accident or illness, it is INSANELY expensive to be air lifted off a ship. In addition the airlines may insist that you have a full time nurse with you if they fly you home. These costs can add up very rapidly and end you up with a huge bill.

I had a friend who went for a few days long cruise and ended up with a $10,000 bill because something happened. In addition he had to cut his trip short and was not compensated for this either.

Food Allergies and Mobility Impaired

Almost all cruise ships in this day and age have facilities for mobility impaired passengers. The staterooms are specially equipped so you should book in advance if you need one to ensure that you get what you need.

In addition, food preferences and allergies can also be accomodated.

Last year I had a family cruise for the first time. Their son had some severe allergies, so severe that they had to bring all of his food onboard.

The cruise line not only allowed them to bring the food onboard but they also had their chefs thaw and heat it for them so that they could all have family dinners together. they were so happy because this was the first vacation they had ever taken as a family and now it opened the door to more wonderful family memories for them.

Chris in Ostia Antica, Rome

Get a Taste of Where You Want to Spend More Time

Cruising is such a great option for travelers. I love it because while you don’t get a lot of time in the ports, you can get a taste of which areas and cities you might want to spend more time in.

Pete and I cruised to the Greek Islands last September and we fell in love with Corfu and decided to plan a trip there for a week. The other areas were nice but Corfu was extra special. Had we not cruised, we would not have known where we would like to spend more time.

Fish plate ceramics
Gorgeous ceramic fish plate

Cruising is Great Value

Pete and I are constantly amazed at some of the cruising values we can find. Our hosting agency, Avoya, reserves group space on selected sailings and we as independent agents get to sell them for the group price and with all the amenities. Essentially we are leveraging buying power when we do this and we get to pass the savings on to you.

You can cruise for less (and sometimes way less) than $200 per night. And when you consider that this includes all of your food and all of your travel from place to place, most of your entertainment and the fact that you only have to unpack once and you do not waste valuable vacation time traveling from place to place, you can see the cruising is a spectacular deal.

Check out our Youtube videos on our favorite ships and itineraries here and here.

Pete, Andy and I have access to the best booking engines ever and the best rates through Avoya. We can also sometimes sweeten the deal in other ways as well.

Give us a call and let’s book our first cruise!

Why I will Never Fly American Airlines Again Until They Get a Big, Fat Clue and What They Can Do About it.

Airlines
Photo credit: Vincen Rivaud via Pexel

Ok so those who know me know that I never trash any service provider unless I really get that they just don’t give a care about their customers or unless (as in the case of a restaurant) they are what I deem dangerous and likely to make people sick.

That said I am hereby trashing American Airlines.

I also never present a gripe without solution so I have provided them solutions for their flat out crappy customer service and if they ever decide that they want to fix their lousy reputation with their customers, they can take a look…..or not.

Here is my rant:

Last Monday I needed to book a one way ticket from Curacao in the Dutch Antilles to San Francisco International which is home.

First off my ONE WAY ticket cost me almost $1,000. ONE WAY!

Ok, I figured that I had the choice to take it or not and there was not much else available so I booked it.

The flight from Curacao to Miami was ok. I was happy that I was going through Miami because there had been some Winter  storms but even those appeared to be almost over.

We arrived in  Miami and the flight was delayed but not my much so that was ok. But then I noticed that the flight to SFO, instead of being five plus hours, was now showing almost eight hours.

The agent at the desk told us that the plane was going to stop in Dallas to refuel because with the winds, one tank would not get us all the way to SFO (Really? Never heard that before? Were all other planes flying across the country doing that?!) Ok, so I thought that was annoying but given the circumstances I was ok with it.

So we fy from Miami to Dallas and it is very smooth. Despite being told that the winds were making us stop in Dallas, I did not feel any wind at all.

When we were landing however, the plane slammed down on the runway so hard that my knee went into the edge of the seat in front of me and was very painful to where I had trouble walking for awhile after that. .

In addition, we landed so hard that a ceiling panel came off in the cabin. Nonetheless we were more or less ok and they started refueling.

Meanwhile maintenance comes aboard to fix the ceiling panel. This takes awhile because they have to go across the airport to get a replacement.

Just as that was finishing up the pilot advises us that he and the crew have timed out and are no longer legally allowed to fly us home in the time that we had left. Really? We had only been in the air a little over three hours.

So we were shuffled off the plane with all our stuff and into Dallas Fort Worth airport.

Then we are advised that the new crew will not be arriving until 4:30 AM. It was 1:30 AM at that time and that was a couple of hours before the time we were supposed to be arriving in SFO.

Not. Happy. At. All.

So they tell us that they will make sandwiches available and other snacks. Ok. I thought, at least we will get a meal of sorts and carry on with our journey. I went up to the snack area and no sandwiches. They had chips, cookies and fruit along with other high sugar stuff with no nutritional value, and water.  So we were stuck in the airport for four hours with no meal. I had a banana and a bag of chips.

We were offered a hotel room if we wanted to rebook but according to their snippy agent, (Yes snippy!) there were no flights out for 2 days and the best they could offer was standby until then. Obviously that was no alternative at all.

In an effort to try and make the best of it, I laid myself out on the floor in a small carpeted section to see if I could get some shut eye.

Three very chilly hours later, someone came through with blankets. Ok, so it would have been nice if he had been handing them out when we first arrived.

So 4:30 AM comes around and we are not boarding. The agent at the desk makes an announcement that they are still waiting for the other pilot and that they have called him and he has not responded. So what does THAT mean? Is he still in bed? Is he in the shower? Where is this guy?

Finally the other pilot shows up. We were supposed to fly out again at 5:00 AM and we did not leave until at least 5:30 AM.

By that time I had a headache, was beyond tired and somewhat dehydrated. I sorely needed some coffee and some of these mystical sandwiches we had been promised.

So we board. The flight had some bumps in it but not the entire way and I have been on bumpier flights. Certainly it was not bumpy enough to warrant no cabin service.

But here is the absolute kicker: No service on the flight AT ALL. Not once did anyone come through the cabin on a four hour plus flight after a four hour wait  and offer us anything at all, not even food to purchase, No drinks were offered at all not even water. They had told us at the airport that there would be catering so I did not take the extra crap snacks that they had at DFW for later. Had I known I would have grabbed another bag of chips and a bottle of water.

So here we were on a four plus hour flight after being stuck in an chilly airport for over four hours with no real food with actual protein in it and no coffee or hot beverages at all, on plane with nothing offered, not even for purchase.

Over Eight Hours.

While we were in the airport, every restaurant and coffee shop was closed so there was no possibility of getting any even if we wanted to pay for it.

When I arrived in SFO I had a massive headache, was dehydrated, frustrated and absolutely determined never to fly American again and never to book any clients on American until I told them this nightmare story.

Another point of irritation was that the agent in Dallas had a canned response to all complaints and questions. This is it verbatim: “Our goal is to get you rebooked as soon as possible.” I heard her say that to every person who came up and asked any question. What is that besides a canned and vague response that completely dodges any responsibility, does not answer anyone’s question and just  upsets everyone ten times more?

Now by this point, people were getting irate. Several people were expressing their dissatisfaction in no uncertain terms. And that canned answer, delivered in a brush off manner was the only forthcoming response.

In short, this was a screw up and PR disaster of massive proportions.

So American Airlines, if you really give a care about your customers, listen up. Here are the solutions to all of this horrible nightmare and how you could have turned it around:

  1. You know stuff is going to happen occasionally so put a back up flight crew on stand by in every airport. The wait for 4 hours was absolutely unnecessary and yes, unacceptable because it did not have to happen.
  2. Make a decision to  bring these back up guys in as soon as you think there might be a problem. If you suspect that this might happen, start notifying them immediately so they can get their showers and what not handled in less time.
  3. If people have to be stuck in an airport over night, give them yoga mats to sleep on, pillows and blankets IMMEDIATELY, not three hours later. There was precious little carpet in the airport and what was there was insanely hard to sleep on.
  4. FEED US something that will handle our hunger.  Frustrated passengers who are stuck somewhere get more and more angry when they are hungry, dehydrated , lacking their coffee and sleep deprived. We spent almost 8 hours with just water and chips. Think about it people! GEEZE!
  5. Give us COFFEE! For God’s sake!
  6. If you cannot get us on a flight very soon, book us on another airline. I have had flights cancelled and delayed and when they could not book me on their own airline, they booked me on a competitor. But then again these were airlines who cared about their customers.
  7. Look at things from your customer’s point of view and actually give a care for them. From the agents to the new flight attendants, we were treated like unwelcome intruders even if we were not complaining. I had asked a benign question and was given a hostile look and a clipped and terse reply by the agents at the desk.

It was beyond obvious that American Airlines has not given a thought to anything happening that is out of the ordinary. They have NO back up plans, NO systems in place to ensure smooth transitions in all circumstances.

It is funny that airline pilots have to have checklists and back up plans for any remotely possible situation while flying but American has ZERO plans in place to guard their reputation and keep their customers happy. Do they go by the motto that if you arrive alive you have nothing to complain about? One wonders. And if they do subscribe to that view,  NEWS FLASH! their customers do not.

Ok so there is my rant. As a travel professional, I will never book a client on American and I will never fly with them again until they get their poop together and start giving a poop about their customers and quit viewing us as annoying and vocal jerks that must be barely tolerated.

That said I have had great experiences in many, many other airlines and I do recommend Copa when flying into the Caribbean. They were inexpensive and super pro with nice new planes. They had great customer service. In fact, if I had been able to fly out of Aruba the day before, the flight would have cost me just over $200 on Copa.

For Europe, I love Lufthansa, Swiss air, and Alitalia (Party plane!!!)

Have you had experiences either good or bad? Write me and let me know!

Maybe if we get loud, American or other airlines will have a wakie wake up moment and save themselves.

Airlines
Photo credit: Vincen Rivaud via Pexel