Category Archives: Relax and restore

First time cruiser diary|what to expect

First time cruiser diary|what to expect

I sailed in May with my daughter, who was a first time cruiser and saw the world through her eyes.  Just arriving at the port in anticipation of boarding is exciting for a first time cruiser.  We weren’t even out of the van when our bags were taken care of; the tags we printed out last week indicated which ship and stateroom the bags would be delivered to.  After a quick ID check, we went through security, just like the one in the airport but with fewer restrictions.  Our next stop was the twenty station check in desk where we each received a key card, a map of the ship and instructions on the meeting time for the emergency drill.  If we hadn’t completed the online pre-cruise check in, this would have been a much longer and more complicated process.  Online check in is a must!

Ship preparing for departure

Ship preparing for departure

What a great place to do some people watching.  The experienced cruisers are easy to spot; they have their bottles of wine with them.  Some are carrying a case of Mountain Dew or other favorite soda.  A few people have huge beautiful bouquets of flowers, knowing the crew will supply the vase in their stateroom.  They also arrive early for check in to make the most of their vacation time and also to avoid the rush during the last hour of boarding

We see the many baby carriages and loads of assistive devices to help the seniors navigate on board.  I happen to be certified in Special Needs Travel and help arrange those rentals for people.  It makes cruising possible for people right into their 90s.  We met a solo traveler who was 95 and she was having a great time for herself.

The dress runs the gamut, as do the ages of guests as well as nationalities and personalities.  Some people are in their finest clothes, while others are ready for the pool.  Lots of groups, large and small, seem to be gathering around the boarding area.  Again and again we learn that just two were planning to travel, then a sister decided to come along, her daughter and friend added a few weeks later and before they knew it, the cruise became a family reunion.

Since we boarded at 1 PM, we had a few hours to explore the ship.  We went to the upper decks to enjoy the fabulous

Upper deck pool and hot tub

Upper deck pool and hot tub

Seattle weather for a few hours before setting sail.  We knew Alaska would be cooler and wetter.  Since the ship was still actively boarding, we had the chance to watch other guests as they arrived.  Even from our balcony, on the starboard side of the ship, we had a view of the port.  In the days when there was just a single ship in the harbor, the port side would be the one facing the port, but now, with sometimes six ships in port at any given time, the rules have all changed.

Food is always available onboard.  Formal dining rooms, although they have set hours, are open for most of the day and night.  Read more

What restaurants are included on Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas cruises

Guests often ask me to help them navigate the dining experience onboard a cruise vacation.  Specifically, I was asked which restaurants

Vision of the Seas Ship

Vision of the Seas Ship

are included on the Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas cruise.  While many guests want to avoid paying extra for meals, some guests are looking for upgraded or unique dining experiences about ships and the cruise lines are adding specialty restaurants to their fleet.  About 10% of guests take advantage of the specialty restaurants onboard cruise ships.  The cost for this experience ranges from $10-49 per person.

Vision of the Seas complimentary dining options include:

Windjammer Cafe
Solarium Bistro
Main Dining Room
Room Service (5am-midnight)

Those with a charge:

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream

Café Latte-tudes

The Vision of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s 2000 passenger ship mainly sails the Caribbean and Northern Europe with seven to seventeen night sailings.  In addition to action packed adventure including an upper deck jogging track, rock climbing wall and video arcade, they offer several options for rest and relaxation including their Vitality Spa, fitness center, 2 pools and 6 whirlpools.  Entertainment and shopping highlights include broadway shows and a Vegas style casino.  There are also eight bars and lounges on board, most with entertainment included.

For assistance choosing which cruise is right for you, call or email today. 603-434-8100  or Wendy@SoloToGroupTravel.com

 

Glacier Bay Alaska on your cruise ship itinerary

Cruising Glacier Bay Alaska

Glacier Bay is one of the greatest of the United States National Parks.  Unlike most parks, nearly all of the 500 thousand visitors each year arrive onboard cruise ships.  While that sounds like a huge number of people, there is actually very limited access and only a small percentage of Alaska cruisers have the opportunity to actually enter and cruise inside Glacier Bay.

Glacier Bay whales

Glacier Bay Whales

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

Whales in Glacier Bay Alaska

 

Orca in Glacier Bay

Orca in Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay Whales

Glacier Bay Whales

The National Park Service permits only two cruise ships per day entry into the park and the cruise ship company pays a large sum for their permit as well as approximately $50 per person entry fee.  Prior to entering the park, one or more park rangers are delivered to the ship by skiff to escort and narrate to the guests.

Visitors may also enter Glacier Bay on foot or by kayak Read more

Cancun Mexico Transfers and Transportation

Map of Mexico

Map of Mexico

For guests who arrive by air to Cancun Mexico, transfers and transportation to your resort can come at a high cost if not booked in advance.  If you are planning a visit to Cancun, Riviera Maya or Cozumel, it is imperative that you arrange for airport transportation prior to your arrival.

As soon as you clear customs, there will be nice men in dress shirts and ties happy to help you reserve your transfer for $165 one way.  There will be taxi stands outside who want $100 plus one way and there will also be a $12 bus to Riviera Carmen where you can catch a taxi for about $25.

Alternatively, you can make your arrangements in advance to save a lot of money.  This can be done through the resort, the travel agent on on your own.  The important thing is that you will save.  Although rates will vary significantly based on the location of your destination, you might expect to pay $65 one way for up to 4 people when booked in advance.

If interested in renting a car, there are a number of reputable companies at the Cancun airport.  You can expect to pay somewhere in the vicinity of $35 per day for a car rental.  Use common sense and don’t drive alone late at night.  Most of the well known resorts offer guests free parking.

It may be easier to let your travel agent handle the details.

 

Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya Mexico Review

Beach at Rivier Maya Hard Rock Hotel

Beach at Rivier Maya Hard Rock Hotel

I had the pleasure of staying at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya in January 2014.  The thing that stands out the most about my stay was the awesome customer service.   At each restaurant and bar, I found the service was spectacular with all employees eager to converse in English.  They took you places rather than pointing when asked for directions and were quick to take care of any requests such as for towels or drinks at the pool.

The newly opened all inclusive resort is split in two.  The Hacienda is the family resort with lots of fun things for kids to do including a rock climbing wall.  Heaven is the adult only area, which has one of the only hot tubs in all of Mexico.  The no reservation needed a la carte dining is open to all guests from either part of the hotel.  We enjoyed a tapa bar for dinner one night and Japanese another night, both were good but not really fantastic.

The Grateful Dead Revival Band was just finishing up a week long specialty package when I arrived and My Morning Jacket was to begin in a few days, so there were plenty of music lovers on site.  After all, Hard Rock is known for it’s music and nightlife.  For nightlife, there was a concert on Saturday night, featuring “Slippery when wet” band from Atlanta.  The other options were bars around the resort including a sports bar and plenty of outdoor options.  On Friday night, I didn’t see a concert, but there was a beach party with a DJ.

The rooms were newly renovated and each had a balcony with a hammock and two chairs.  I loved the hammock offering and found a shady spot to relax in the afternoon was a really nice bonus.  Each room also has a Jacuzzi tub, which is another signature item.   We also had very good free wifi throughout the resort for our stay and also free phone calls to the USA and Canada.  I took full advantage of both benefits.

The resort brought in several tons of sand and now offers “beachfront” sun bathing in addition to lounges at numerous pools throughout the property.  While there is a nice sandy area to hang out at during the day and at night (we had a Mexican beach party and dinner one night), it doesn’t really afford full traditional access to the ocean.  I did love the walkway along the beach spanning the whole length of the resort; it was very nice to have the ocean at my side while I strolled from one area to the next and enjoyed the weather and views.

 

Virgin Islands travel quick and easy for US citizens-no passport needed.

Travel to the US Virgin Islands is quick and easy for US citizens; short flights, no passport needed for americans, beautiful beaches and plenty of accommodation choices.  St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John islands make up the US Virgin Islands where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea.

Westin Resort St. John US Virgin Islands

Westin Resort St. John US Virgin Islands

St. Thomas, the hub of the US Virgin Islands, is known for its shopping and beaches.  Its a busy cruise port and the entry point for most visitors to the USVI.  From here, take a catamaran or speed boat to any one of the nearby islands for a day trip or longer vacation.

Visit the new accessible trails in the VI National Park on St. John, where 75% of the island is designated as national park property.  There are great opportunities to stay in style while you camp (try the Concordia Campground where there are hard tents with bathrooms) as well as options for luxury accommodations for those tourists looking for pampering and more.

If camping and nature aren’t for you, visit the full casinos on St. Croix, with or without an all inclusive resort experience.  The all inclusive resort option will help you know your travel costs, leaving some lucky money for chips.  Captain Morgan’s Rum Center is not to be missed  as a day excursion.

Active and retired military receive a $150 discount for most accommodations and there are rates and packages to meet every travelers needs. Please call 603-434-8100 or Wendy@SoloToGroupTravel.com for the latest offers.

New resort option|Jamaica Royalton White Sands

The Royalton White Sands
Royalton White Sands Resort Jamaica pool area.

Royalton White Sands Resort Jamaica pool area.

Another resort  in Jamaica is turning heads.  The Royalton White Sands Resort in Montego Bay opened it’s doors in November, 2013.  After being closed for two years, extensive renovations have been completed on this 356 room Blue Diamond property.  This all inclusive resort has something for everyone, from the multigenerational family to honeymooners.

So, what’s all the fuss about?

1. The luxury swim out units.

2. The infinity pool.

3. A magnificent water slide.

4. All inclusive no reservation needed dining with 24 hour room service. Choose from 5 restaurants and 6 bars.

5. Blue tooth and USB recharge stations in every room plus FREE wifi.

6. Dream beds with highest quality thread count sheets and duvets.

7. Call home whenever you like with free unlimited phone calls.

8. Sports event guarantee. All major US games will be broadcast in the Sports Bar.

9. Kids Adventure Club for the 2-12 year olds. Teen lounge for the older kids.

10. Included non motorized sports (snorkel, kayak, splash pad).

About Jamaica

Jamaica, an English speaking country, is best known for it’s reggae music, water sports, beaches and waterfalls.  For those who love nature, Dunn’s River Falls is a must day trip.  For some the Royalton Resort, with it’s white sands, will be exactly the place to unwind and enjoy the beauty of Jamaica.

 

Ten benefits of a cruise vacation

Ten benefits of a cruise vacation:

The Norwegian Getaway

Norwegian Cruise Lines newest ship the Getaway.

1. Unpack your suitcase once and see several different destinations.  Once you enter your stateroom, you will feel like you are at home.  At each port of call, you have the excitement of a new destination without the hassle of getting there or repacking.

2. No wasted time getting from place to place.  While the ship is moving, you are sleeping or enjoying the activities on board, there is no need to arrange your day to catch flights or trains.  Spend the days in port and let the ship captain and crew take care of the rest.

3. Choose from a large ship with 4000 people to a small intimate ship with 16 people depending on your preferences.  Think of it as city vs. country or large resort vs. boutique hotel.  A small intimate gathering in the main dining room is perfect for some, while others prefer to have several restaurant options and seating times to choose from.

4. Know your budget and costs before you travel.  The all inclusive dining feature is featured on all ships.  Many upscale cruise lines also include drink packages, excursions, and internet in their pricing.  The cabin categories allow guests to choose the stateroom that best fits their needs: choose from an inside cabin, a window view, a balcony, mini suites and more exclusive larger suites with butler services and more.

5. Design a vacation that centers around your interests.  Theme cruises are a great way to meet people with similar interests (music, quilting, lifestyle, sports and learning, to name a few).  My personal favorites offer cultural experiences such as those that have ports of call along the ancient Mediterranean coasts.

6. Gamble or shop duty free on board.  Once the ship is in international waters, the casino is open and the tables are hot.

7. Be entertained with non stop activities and shows on larger ships.  From pools to spas  and ziplines to outdoor movie theatres, the variety of pastimes on board will keep every guest busy and happy.  On a smaller ship, such as an Uncruise Adventure to Alaska, enjoy wildlife viewing, nature talks and beautiful scenery.

8. Learn about different cultures on shore excursions with an English speaking guide.  Choose the excursions that interest you, from scuba and snorkeling trips to cooking lessons and walking photography tours.

9. Family reunions and multigenerational travel are the latest trends in vacationing. Enjoy meals together at a designated time, treasure one on one time at other times, there is something for absolutely every age range on a large ship.

10. Relax and unwind.