Budgeting and Choosing the Best Fit for an Alaskan Cruise

Budgeting and Choosing the Best Fit for your Alaskan Cruise

Orca in Glacier Bay
Orca in Glacier Bay

Ugh, that sticky subject when planning a vacation; it comes up eventually every time you travel.  Maybe you are one to plan a budget in advance and try to stick close to those numbers.  You might be one to pull a number out of a hat, book the cruise right at your limit and not plan for excursions and ship board expenses.  Another personality will just put it all on the card and figure it out later.

Knowing in advance what your expenses might be will help to plan your trip and enjoy it to the fullest.  Factors to consider are broken out below, plan out your wish list as you go down the list. When budgeting, though, work in order of your personal priorities.  This will help to determine the cruise line and sailing that is right for you.

The reason there are at least a dozen cruise companies sailing the Alaska coast successfully is the differences and markets they tend to attract.  Let a travel agent help you explore which one is the best fit for your next vacation.

Ship Size:

More so than in any other market, there are varied ship options for your sailing to Alaska.  From 12 person yachts that can visit uncharted nooks and crannies to large floating cities with every imaginable amenity and offering.  While budget will play a role in this decision, your personal interests need to be considered to find the best fit.

Cruise Line:

Several companies sail the icy Pacific Ocean to the Bering Sea and beyond from May through October.  Choosing the best fit for you might be as easy as listing your top dream activities on board. For instance, do you want the giant outdoor movie screen to looking at the best children’s programs? This thought may lead you to or away from a particular kid friendly line.  You may enjoy privileged status with one company or you may want to gain that status for your dream future trip around the world.  Quite often, clients know if they want formal nights and country club casual attire or if they’d prefer the casual anything goes climate, how do you like to travel?  Do you prefer a set dinner time or do you prefer my style dining?  Are you looking for an inclusive drink package?  These are important differences between the cruise companies.

You could always call the cruise line directly and ask questions; they will certainly tell you all about their ships.  Will they tell you about a competitor that might be a better fit for you?  Not likely, but a travel agent will tell you.

Travel Dates Affect Budget:

If you are traveling with children, the school calendar may dictate your options for travel dates.  If you don’t mind the colder weather, like a true New Englander, May or September can offer the same experience but with fewer crowds.  Floridians might prefer July, Alaska’s warmest month.  The calving glaciers are best seen with the warmer weather beginning in late May and newborn cubs and wildlife will be more abundant then too.  Highest season in July is also highest priced but because of the warmer temperatures and longer days.

Trip Itineraries:

Alaskan cruises are generally 7 days or longer. The most common southern Alaska 7 day itineraries follow Read More

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Handicapped accessible travel needs

The World is Now More Accessible Than Ever – Explore and Enjoy It!

The world is now more accessible than ever before. Twenty percent (62 million) of the U.S. population has some form of disability, and the number of these individuals is increasing daily. We all  need to, want to, and can travel. If you’re part of that twenty percent, a world of travel awaits you.


Travel professionals such as myself who are accessible travel advocates certified by Special Needs Group www.specialneedsgroup.com, the leading global provider of special needs equipment for the travel industry, have unique, specialized knowledge about how to help individuals with disabilities enjoy a wonderful, hassle-free and memorable trip.

Here are a few tips to ensure that when your next travel opportunity arises, you are ready to go.

Outline your travel needs

Take time to evaluate the logistics of your trip in relation to your ability to keep pace. What modes of transportation will you be using? Airplane, motor coach, train, ship, transit vans for ground transfers? Make a list, referring to relevant brochures, your trip organizer or travel agent to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Now, make a list of your specific requirements. Be honest: what types of special needs equipment do you depend on at home? What do you use or need (or wish you had!) when shopping, sightseeing locally, dining out or going to the movies, attending concerts, the theater, street fairs or sporting events at home? Read More

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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

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Easy steps to avoid weight gain on a cruise ship

Easy steps to avoid weight gain on a cruise ship

It seems unfair that so many people who ask legitimate questions on websites about avoiding weight gain on cruises are told to “just enjoy the vacation” and “only count sugar”.  I surfed to more than a dozen sites looking for sound advice on this subject before deciding to just be sensible during my cruise.  Now that it’s over, I can give some advice of my own.

DSCN6928For those of us who sit at a desk most of the week, it’s easy to burn calories on board by just using the stairs.  This could also be a fun reason to splurge for a higher deck cabin.

Exercise options are endless while at sea.  If you work out at home, it’s very easy to keep your routine in place while cruising.  While there are plenty of people using the treadmills and other equipment, I didn’t see anyone who needed to wait for their machine.  Big groups of people walk on deck in the morning and after dinner, some do the three laps that equal a mile and others make it a stroll.  Holland America even has a structured walk each day right after the morning stretch.

Try to keep you meal routine in place.  If you generally eat breakfast at home, enjoy it onboard.  If you normally have coffee only, try that for a few days and see what you think.  Remember, you can always get food, so don’t worry about missing out.

While there are a frightening number of calories in the dinners and desserts, there are also huge amounts in beverages of all kinds.  Try to alternate a glass of water with each beer, wine or cocktail drink.  Drinking plenty of water will also help keep you healthy and germ free on the cruise.

At mealtime, specifically ask for Read More

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The National Cherry Blossom Festival Washington DC

japanese cherry blossoms
japanese cherry blossoms

The Washington DC mall will fill with the Japanese cherry blossoms again this spring.   The two week events kicks off on March 22, 2014 with hundreds of performances and events planned.  One of the highlights of the Cherry Blossom Festival is the parade which will take place on  April 12, 2014 from 10 a.m. to noon along Constitution Avenue.  After the parade, be sure to participate in the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival offering guests a taste of Japanese culture including food, music, dance and crafts.

Well over three thousand cherry trees were gifted to the United States by the City of Tokyo back in 1912 as a gift of friendship.  There are about a dozen different cherry trees on the Tidal Basin in Washington.  The festivals have taken place for many of those years and continues to grow in size, interest and length.

For tourists interested in participating in this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival, I can provide train and hotel arrangements for the independent traveler or a full week tour for those who would enjoy delving into all the sights and activities of this beautiful city.  An active traveler may enjoy a bike tour of the city or maybe a Segway ride.

While in DC, be sure to visit the many museums, sporting events, monuments and scenic areas.  Keep in mind that blooming dates vary based on weather patterns.



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Save money on vacation|six things travel agents wish you knew

snake juice in Cambodia
Snake juice-know what you are getting

There are six things travel agents wish you knew about prior to booking.

1.  Travel agents can take care of all the logistics around travel.  Say you book your own air, what next?  A travel agent will be sure that all of the little things are taken care of, the transfers, hotels, tours and excursions, etc.

2.  When things go wrong, it’s great to have a person with a phone number to reach out to.  For instance, you loose your passport, weather prevents you from taking one of your excursions and you’d like to reschedule or refund, your flight is cancelled and you need a hotel, you need to cancel your trip and need help with the insurance company.  The list goes on forever, a travel agent can help.

3.  Some on line feedback is not done by real guests. How do you wade through the hundreds of hotels at a new location and guess which ones are in the area you want.  It could take hours for an individual to do all that research.

4.  Nearly everyone travelling outside of the USA should have travel insurance and it is very reasonably priced.  The reasons to have insurance far outweigh the risk of not having it.  It’s almost always a better value to purchase from an agent than from a resort, airline or tour operator.

5.  Travel agents often have incentives and other offering that will bring more value to a vacation package.  They can take care of upgrades and changes through their networks.

6. Travel agents are familiar with many destinations, and are able to make suggestions that meet your families needs exactly.  It’s this personalized service that can turn a vacation into a lifetime memory.


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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.

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Travel Solo On Norwegian Cruise Lines Studio Cabins

the Norwegian Getaway
Norwegian Cruise Lines newest ship the Getaway.

Solo travel on Norwegian Cruise Lines just got better!  Norwegian Cruise Lines, in February will introduce the Norwegian Getaway with weekly sailings from Miami to the Eastern Caribbean.  The Getaway will be the third Norwegian ship with “studio cabins” specifically designed for guests who are travelling solo.

It will join the Norwegian Breakaway, which sails out of New York year round to Bermuda or the Caribbean and the Norwegian Epic.  The Epic will sail to the Western Caribbean from Miami.  This innovative idea for solo travelers to get the best value for their travel budget with a smaller room adds to the vacation by bringing the solo travelers together.

Not only will solo travelers have a 100 square foot cabin especially designed for them, these very special guests will have  a welcome gathering, their own lounge and other ways to meet fellow solo travelers on board.  Notice that I am saying “solo travelers”, who will not necessarily be “single travelers”, but people who want to take a cruise and are traveling alone.

The three things I love most about this concept:

There is no single supplement!  That means a great savings in comparison to several other ships that charge for two guests in a room, even when only one person is going.

There is a white board in the lounge that guests can use to set up dinner plans, land excursions, night club companions, poker pals, etc.

There are a lot of people who’d like to travel but don’t have a travel buddy.  What a great way to meet a travel companion for future travel.

The Getaway will leave South Hampton England in a few days enroute to New York City, where it will do some introductions prior to sailing to its new home in Miami.  Once it arrives in Miami, the new year round home of the Getaway, departures each Saturday will take guests on  7 day Eastern Caribbean cruises.

This new ship will also appeal to families because of the endless activities available for all ages.  The Haven will appeal to adults and those seeking a luxurious vacation where they will be treated like royalty.  For guests who enjoy entertainment, they can look forward to seeing Legally Blonde and kids will love being with Sponge Bob.

Norwegian still offers four and five day sailings from Miami for those who are limited on time or maybe for first time guests who want to understand why 34 million people a year take a cruise.

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