VITAL INFORMATION for First Time Cruisers!

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

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

 

Pasticceria Arrone, Calabrian Pastries to Die For.

Perfect coffee and cakes
Pasticceria Arrone
Chris and Bonnie at Pasticceria Arrone

Ciao,

Ok so you have arrived in Italy and by some great good fortune you have found your way south.

You wake up hungry and decide that nothing would be quite so perfect as light, crispy, sweet Italian pastry and a perfect cappuccino as you soak in the bright Calabrian sun just as the day is warming up around you.

Down the Mediterranean coast, halfway to Reggio from Naples you come to where we live.

Just south of the Gulf of Policastro and a short hop from the border from Basilicata you enter Calabria and her gorgeous stretches of azure coastline, magnificent beaches, dramatic jutting mountains and a culture deep and rich as the Magne Grecia from which it was born.

Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro
Maratea and the Gulf of Policastro

Little train stops dot the coastline, Maratea, Praia a Mare/Aieta, Scalea/Santa Domenica Talao, And Santa Maria Del Cedro. And here is where you will get off.

Pasticceria Arrone is located in Santa Maria del Cedro just along the train line heading down to Reggio Calabria. It is perfectly located to provide you with the perfect coffee and treat before or after your journey. But we have found that Pasticceria Arrone is a destination unto itself.

One early morning, my husband and I gathered our friends around us and made a  pilgrimage.

Heaven
Heaven! (Chris, Carolyn Oliver, Barbara Oliver and Bonnie Gale Oliver)

Happily our friends Bonnie and Carolyn Oliver had their other sister, Barbara visiting for Summer so we all headed down licking our lips along the way.

Those little red ones, tiny cakes covered with the lightest crispy sugar coating. Give me a moment.
Those little red ones, tiny cakes covered with the lightest crispy sugar coating. Give me a moment.

Pasticceria Arrone is the labor of love of two master confectioners, Adolfo Arrone and Luigi Barone. Together with a team which they consider more of a family, they are dedicated to creating master confections mostly with the local citrus, the cedro (which is like a Bergamo or a very delicately flavored lime.)

Treats Arrone
A selection of deliciousness at Arrone, pistachio creams, cedro creams, little tiramisu rectangles, each one a word of art.

Their dedication to quality transcends any wish to save money by using inferior ingredients and when you see, smell and taste the magnificent creations, you can tell that they have found their calling.

The best way to enjoy the creations is to go in the morning with friends, order a perfect cafe and a selection of cakes. Share them all so you get a variety of different flavors, fragrances and textures.

More treats at Arrone
Cakes and more treats, each one a bite of heaven.

Although everything you try there is amazing, my favorite was the light crunchy phyllo type pastry filled with pistachio cream. It is knee weakeningly delicious and you have to close your eyes and “have a moment” with every bite.

Perfect coffee and cakes
Perfect coffee and delicate cakes

Pasticceria Arrone makes cakes to order and every dinner that ends with a Pasticceria Arrone package coming out, suddenly becomes epic.

Pasticceria Arrone can be found at Via Orso Marso 3, Santa Maria Del Cedro. +39 0985 42577

 

 

 

 

How to Survive in the Caribbean

Chris in Curacao

Chris has returned from a trip to the Caribbean with some tips on how to dress to survive the heat and humidity there.

She says “If you’re in the Caribbean, pretend you’re going to be in a sauna, because that’s how you’re going to survive”.

Watch her video so that you too can survive your next trip to the Caribbean!

The Power of Cruise Groups!

We at Super Savvy Travelers are Independent Agents affiliated with the Avoya Travel Network, and through this affiliation we can give you access to Avoya’s Open Promotion Groups. Avoya books large numbers of cabins on most ships under a special group fare codes, which are then available for us to use for our client bookings. Because Avoya is able to book these cabins at a large discount, we can pass the corresponding savings on to you.

Avoya is also affiliated with American Express Travel, who also book cabins into groups.  Through our affiliation with Avoya, we can also get access to these special group rates and amenities.

This doesn’t mean that you are booking into an actual onboard “group”; instead, you’re booking into a group fare code, which allows you to receive the associated group discounts and amenities without actually “being in a group” .

By booking your cruise through us, you can often get access to very significant savings on your cruise. For example, a client recently called me directly from the cruise ship he was on, because he had gotten what he thought was a good discount from that cruise line for pre-booking his next cruise.

Even though he was offered a lower deposit as well as on-board credit, I was able to beat his deal by several hundred dollars by taking advantage of an existing American Express group on the cruise that he was interested in.

Another client also contacted me about a cruise she was excited about, and was actually considering booking directly with the cruise line after getting a quote from them.  Although the cruise line was offering several deals at the time, I got her a quote, this time taking advantage of an existing Avoya group rate, that beat her quoted rate by several hundred dollars, and with additional onboard credit included.

Only independent Avoya travel agencies can gain access to these Avoya groups and Super Savvy Travelers is proud to state that we are an Avoya Independent Agency.

In addition to Avoya’s group rates, we also offer all special promotions only offered through Avoya as well as all promotions offered by the cruise lines.

Contact us today to take advantage of these special group rates and other fantastic promotions you can only get through Avoya, and the personal dedicated attention and expertise you always get with Super Savvy Travelers.

 

How Flying Became the Safest Way to Travel

Flying

2017 was the safest year in aviation history, with zero deaths from commercial passenger jets.

This video has the somewhat pessimistic title of “Why Airplanes Crash”.

It is really a brief history of the technological, scientific and social breakthroughs that have made air travel the safest way to get anywhere today.

Now that you know you will be safe, contact us to book your next adventure!

Vital Things You Must Not Forget When Traveling Overseas

Vital things you forget to pack

You just arrived at your destination. You have planned your trip for months and everything is supposed to be perfect.

You start unpacking and to your horror,  you forgot to pack something vital.

What should be the first day of a fabulous vacation is now spent desperately trying to find this item instead of relaxing on the beach, exploring a new city or even a well deserved nap.

Even the simplest of trips requires a ton of super savvy planning in order to make it smooth and enjoyable from start to finish.

In all the rush and planning, there are always certain things you forget.

Print this article and use it as a check list.

1. Prescription medication

I have to take thyroid meds every day or I turn all grey and go right to bed. If I do not have these it is vital that I get some right away. The same is true with many prescription meds for many people.

You never know exactly what medications are available in other countries and minimally, you would probably have to see a doctor in order to get them.

If you arrive on a weekend, that makes a couple of days without your prescription.

Make sure you have enough of your prescription meds to see you through your entire stay.

Put these in your carry on luggage in case your luggage takes a side trip to Rangoon.

2. Your passport

Sounds like a no brainer but I have gotten all the way to the airport and realized I left my passport on the nightstand at home.

There is nothing like the sinking feeling that occurs when you realize what you have done.

Save yourself some grief.

3. Your chargers

Add to this list, your phone charger, your computer charger, your tablet charger and anything else you can think of that requires a charger. You can probably replace them where you are going but again, it takes time.

4. An electrical transformer

In many countries, especially in Europe, the plugs are different and you will need a transformer to use your appliances. You will not be able to plug your blow dryer into a European outlet.

5. Your phone

Make sure you have it and call your provider to ensure that it will work where you are going. If you are traveling with others or meeting others at your destination, you need to ensure that you can call and text each other. This does not happen automatically. You have to set it up.

6. Money in the currency of your destination

Change your money before you go. If you change it in the airport when you arrive or in any of the money changing stores or kiosks near any of the monuments, you will get charged way more than you should.

Your bank will need some notice as many of them do not carry different currencies as a matter of course. At least two weeks prior to your trip, order some new currency from your bank and get as much as you need.

If you have to change money at a bank when you arrive, ensure that you bring your passport and plan to spend at least 45 minutes there.

Or you can use the ATM for smaller amounts but there is a limit for each day.

When using the ATM, make sure you know what the limit is in the currency of your destination. Your dollar limit means nothing to a foreign ATM.

7. An over-the-shoulder-travel bag with reinforced straps

In most cities with any amount of tourism, thievery is rampant. Thieves have many ways of distracting you, grabbing your bags and even cutting the straps of your bag in order to steal from you.

Remember, a thief’s job is to figure out more effective ways to steal from wary travelers and they work hard at it. The scams and tricks they have are numerous.

If you have a bag with reinforced straps that goes over your shoulder and preferably under your jacket, it could save you losing your bag with all it contents.

8. Your ATM PIN

In different countries, PIN numbers may be different. In Italy they have to be four digits. Make sure you find out what the requirements are in your destination country so that you don’t get there and find out that you can’t use your ATM card.

9. Advise your bank that you are traveling

If your bank detects activity in a different part of the world than you are normally, they may freeze your account as a fraud prevention measure. You can avoid this by advising them before you leave that you will be in another country and how long you will be gone.

10. Tickets and reservations for attractions

With most of the popular attractions in any city, they book up fast. For this reason you see people waiting in lines snaking back and forth and they look like they have been there for hours.

Vacation time in your destination is priceless. You only have a certain number of hours in any given city. You do not want to waste it by standing in line.

Decide in advance what attractions you want to see and reserve your place online before you go. Some of the attractions book up months in advance like Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan.

If there is something you simply must see, check it out way in advance to ensure you don’t miss it.

Additionally many cities with a lot of attractions have discounts and passes you can buy that will save you tons of money and sometimes allow you to skip the lines.

In Florence you can buy the Firenze Card which costs 72 Euros and allows you 72 hours to access the museums and exhibitions on the Firenze Card circuit. You also get priority access to some museums saving you more time and allowing you to get more for your Firenze Card buck.

Other cities may have similar offers so go online and check it out.

Now that you have packed all the vitals and made all your reservations, you are ready for a stress free trip to your dream vacation.

For future dream vacations, check out our limited time travel deals. Taking advantage of these will stretch your travel buck and make you an even more Super Savvy Traveler.

Have fun!