Cruise Holidays - Attheta Travel

I am proud to be certified by CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) as an Elite Cruise Counselor. The Cruise Counselor Certification Program is CLIA's most comprehensive training which requires agents to successfully complete a number of compulsory training courses and exams, attend cruise conferences, and conduct ship inspections. Anita Thompson, Attheta Travel

Monday, December 31, 2012

Getting to the Ship: Dealing with Air Travel Sticker Shock

As you’re planning for your next cruise, the current strong demand for air travel means you may have a little sticker shock over the cost of airfare to your ship’s home port – especially if that port is in Europe.

In recent years, airlines have reduced costs by trimming flight schedules and flying smaller planes on some routes to conserve fuel. Recent airline mergers have also reduced the number of available flights, even on popular routes. As a result, the supply of airline seats has become more limited, and fares may be higher than you expect.

Fortunately, cruise travel professionals can help you find ways to maximize the value you receive for the price you pay to travel to and from your ship. According to a recent survey, the top recommendation of Cruise Holidays owners and agents is to spend some additional time on land at the beginning or end of the cruise. After all, you’ve already paid to get to Miami, Boston, New Orleans, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Venice, or whatever port your ship calls home – it makes sense to take some additional time to enjoy the city and the surrounding area.

Another popular recommendation is to increase the all-inclusive value provided by your cruise by waiting for special offers, such as “two for one” cruise fares. Or, watch for special offers for on-board credits that can pay for extras not included in the cruise fare, such as beverages and specialty restaurant cover charges. Cruise travel professionals are expert at finding deals like these, and the money you save can be redirected to airfare costs.

Cruise vacationers can also minimize air travel costs when their cruise travel professionals work with air consolidators. These companies purchase unsold seats directly from the airlines at low prices. The largest and most reputable consolidators usually do not sell directly to the public, but make lower-cost tickets available to travel professionals who can pass the savings on to you.

Finally, some high-end cruise lines actually include air travel to and from the ship in their base cruise fares. It may be more economical to take one of these luxurious and delightful cruises than to book a lower-priced cruise and a higher-priced airfare.

For more ideas about minimizing your airfare costs – and maximizing the fun you’ll have on your next cruise – talk with your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.
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Friday, December 28, 2012

2013 Cruise Trends

In 2013, Europe will be a cruise destination to be reckoned with. Plus, while cruise prices to Europe remain relatively low, there are signs that pricing for the second half of 2013 may be on its way up – a positive sign for the cruise industry that leisure travelers are once again creating demand. With this in mind, travelers are advised to lock in their preferred itinerary at least eight months in advance. These are a few of the headlines from the 2013 Cruise Holidays Cruise Trends survey – which draws actual cruise pricing and booking statistics from more than 550 cruise specialists across North America.

2013 Cruise Pricing for Europe, Caribbean and Alaska

Cruise Holidays consistently studies pricing for three of the most popular cruise destinations and shares it via the Cruise Trends survey. Compared to bookings made in 2011 for 2012, sample pricing for a 12-day Mediterranean cruise for 2013 is lower by about $35 per person, per day. “However, keep in mind that this number reflects reservations that go back to early 2012, when demand may not have been as strong as it is now,” said Mark Schiffner, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Cruise Holidays International. “Pricing for some of the premium and luxury cruise lines that many of our passengers favor is actually ahead of last year,” continued Schiffner.

Caribbean pricing for a 7-day cruise is virtually the same as last year, and 7-day Alaska cruises are up about $20 per person, per day, compared to cruises booked in 2011 for 2012. These figures include all cruises booked by Cruise Holidays* as of December 17, 2012, sailing in 2013, aboard all cruise lines – from luxury to casual or “contemporary.”

Top Cruise Destinations for 2013

The Caribbean remains the undisputed leader as a cruise destination for travelers globally. Here are the top 10 cruise destinations being booked for 2013 by Cruise Holidays cruise experts:

1. Caribbean (includes Bahamas)
2. Europe (includes River Cruises, Mediterranean, Baltic, Scandinavia & Greek Isles)
3. Alaska
4. Bermuda
5. Hawaii
6. (tie) Panama Canal
6. (tie) Trans-Atlantic
8. South Pacific (including Australia)
9. South America
10. Maritime Canada & New England

Top Cruise Destinations – Who’s Gaining On the Caribbean

The top five cruise destinations remain unchanged from 2012 to 2013. However, the Caribbean’s overall dominance fell slightly, from nearly 60% in 2012 to under 55% of total bookings for 2013 so far. The difference is made up by Europe taking a larger piece of the pie, climbing from 11% to 13% of the total, and Alaska climbing from 6.7% to 8.5%. Hawaii also inched up.

262: The Magic Number

The magic number for booking a cruise prior to departure is 262 days out, or just under nine months. That’s the average amount of time prior to their cruise that Cruise Holidays clients book their vacations. “We have some cruises booked for late 2014 that were booked quite early in 2012. We even have a small number of passengers already booked for 2015,” said Schiffner.

Popular Cruise Itineraries Trump Price

While price is an important consideration in all vacation choices, the cruise itinerary continues to be the number one factor in locking in travelers’ final vacation decisions. Here are the top five factors Cruise Holidays cruise experts hear from their customers regarding their reasons for taking a particular cruise:

1. Itinerary
2. Price
3. Cruise line
4. Embarkation Point
5. Cruise Ship

Other factors include accommodations available, such as a suite, balcony, or concierge-level stateroom; amenities onboard the ship, such as specialty dining or surfing simulators; and shore excursions available.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Cruise Ship Hangouts for Teens

One fact of teen life is that parents can be pretty aggravating and quite embarrassing (you probably thought the same thing about your own beloved parents when you were a teen). Many teens who agree to go on a cruise with their parents secretly (or not secretly) hope they won’t have to spend too much time with them on the ship. Cruise lines understand this, and grant teens’ wishes with teen clubs and lounges. For your peace of mind, crew members who have experience working with teens provide non-parental supervision.

On Princess ships, the Remix lounge is the place for teens to have “mocktail” socials, dance to their favorite music, watch late-night movies and more. The ship’s professional dancers often drop by to give hip-hop lessons, and one evening is dedicated to a teen formal, complete with dinner and a show.

Norwegian Cruise Lines just introduced Entourage, a new program for teens age 13 to 17. Teens have fun and build confidence playing games like basketball, dodgeball and Ultimate Frisbee. In the evening, they watch movies, or mingle at a “vampire night” or pool party. The Teen Center lounge is equipped with vending machines, video games, air hockey, pinball and a video jukebox.

Carnival Cruise Line gives tweens age 12 to 14 their own club, Circle C. Away from the “little kids” and the older teens, they can dance, play games and get together for outdoor movies. For the high school crowd, Club O2 is a place to hang out and listen to music, play video games and learn to deejay. Many itineraries offer some Club O2-only shore excursions, too.

Royal Caribbean’s teen program lets them choose from a variety of organized events; or, they can simply hang out in the teen lounge and teen-only nightclub. Teens age 12 to 14 get active in friendly competitions on the cruise line’s signature rock-climbing walls and show their talent at open mic nights. Teens age 15 to 17 enjoy theme nights, pool parties, and games on the Pool & Sports deck.

So, assure your teen that your cruise ship will have adult-free spaces where teens can gather, relax, and even talk about parents with others who understand. To find out more about the teen clubs on various cruise lines, talk with Anita, your Cruise holidays personal cruise expert.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Cruise Clubs for Kids

With their pools, water slides, deck games, contests and nightly entertainment – not to mention great food available 24 hours a day – a cruise ship is a wonderland for kids. Still, young passengers need a place to meet others their own age, who share their interests and general desire to have fun designed just for them.

That’s why many cruise lines have special clubs for kids, staffed by crew members who have experience working with children. These clubs are designed to give kids opportunities to have fun with other kids, enjoy the features of the ship, and even learn something new. As a side benefit, kids clubs give parents some time to relax and enjoy the ship on their own.

Royal Caribbean’s kids club encourages the youngest kids to take on the role of cruise ship scientist. In its Royal Babies and Tots Nursery, ages six to 36 months, the littlest guests are cared for by trained professionals. Aquanauts, age three to five, explore the secrets of bubbling potions and dinosaurs; Explorers, age five to eight, dig into space mud and meteorology; Voyagers, age nine to 11, get active with scavenger hunts, sports tournaments, video game challenges and more.

Camp Carnival also organizes kids into three age groups: two to five, six to eight and nine to 11. There are lots of activities and games for each age group during the day, and even into the night. Camp Carnival Night Owls provides kid-friendly dinner menus and supervised fun so parents can enjoy the ship’s restaurants and entertainment well into the evening.

Norwegian Cruise Lines’ new Splash Academy welcomes Guppies (age six months to two years – a parent must come along), Turtles (age three to five), Seals (age six to nine) and Dolphins (age 10 to 12).  They can gather in the Kids’ Center, which has video games and a surround sound cinema; have fun with arts and crafts; or learn to be a circus performer with “Cirque du Jour.”

Princess Ships have Youth Centers where kids can join the Princess Pelicans (age three to seven) or the Shockwaves (age eight to 12).  Activities for the Pelicans include dance parties (no adults allowed), watching movies and cartoons, art projects and pizza parties. The Shockwaves get to have dinner together (again, adults must not intrude), try their talent at Karaoke, and explore the ship’s galleys in the Jr.CHEF@Sea program.

For more information about the kids clubs on various cruise lines, talk with Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Foreign Currency Exchange

Last week, we were asked by a customer for the best way to exchange currency when traveling to New Zealand and Australia.   

Our answer -
There is no good answer to your question about the best way to exchange currency.  The answer depends if you are looking for convenience or for the best rate of exchange.  At the airport is the most convenient.  If we are going to arrive at our destination late in the day, we exchange currency at the airport where we leave the US. Sometimes, we wait to exchange currency when we arrive.  If you exchange in the US or your destination airport, you can expect to get a lower rate and to pay exchange fees.

The best rate of exchange is in a bank in the destination city.  However, that is not convenient and time consuming -- not all banks exchange currency …

Most large upscale hotels will exchange currency, but again they offer a lower rate of exchange.   Depending on the itinerary, some of the cruise ships will exchange currency, but they offer a poor rate of exchange.

When we travel overseas, we exchange $100 US so that we have money for incidentals, but we plan to charge most of our expenses on credit cards.  When our cash gets low, we look for a currency exchange kiosk or ATM. We carry two credit cards that we know will be accepted in the counties that we travel into.  Before you go, contact the company that issued the cards and verify that they will be accepted in the countries that you plan to visit.   Last year, a Master Card issued by our credit union was rejected in Thailand and Viet Nam.  Due to the high level of fraud, it is the policy of our credit union to reject all charges in these two countries.  A few credit cards do not have foreign exchange fees. Many credit cards will have a 2 to 3 percent foreign traction fee added to every purchase.  Be aware if your card charges an exchange fee or not. 

Both MasterCard and Visa have two types of credit cards: 1) swipe and sign, 2) pin number required.  In the US, we still use the swipe and sign card (stripe on the back) while much of the world has converted to a card that requires a pin.  Don’t be surprised if a store or restaurant requests you to enter a pin number…  However all establishments that are authorized to accept these cards are required to accept both types  -- at least that is what it says in the credit card literature.   That said, I have read of travelers having issues with swipe and sign cards around the world, but we have not experienced this problem.

Another option is to use a prepaid debit card that has a Visa or MasterCard logo – one that is accepted around the world.  However, that debit card may incur foreign exchange fees…
In a few months, we will travel to New Zealand and to Australia.  We plan to exchange $100 at the airport in Auckland.   Since we have a layover in Australia on our way to New Zealand, we plan to exchange $100 US in Australia.  Most of our larger expenses will be charged to a credit card that does not have a foreign exchange fee. 

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Celebrate the New Year on a Cruise

If you’re looking forward to a New Year’s Eve celebration – but not to the organizing, cooking and cleaning that’s usually involved – think about ringing in the New Year on a cruise ship.

Cruise ships are all about relaxation and enjoyment, so they are tailor-made for fabulous New Year’s Eve experiences. You can spend the day relaxing on deck, getting a jump on your resolutions with a pre-party workout in the gym, doing some touring on shore or pampering yourself in the ship’s spa.

New Year’s Eve festivities vary a bit depending on the cruise line and ship you choose, but you can expect special dinner menus, festive drinks (with or without alcohol), lots of live music and dancing, party games and special events just for kids and teens. As midnight approaches, the party hats and noisemakers will come out, followed by a toast to the New Year and perhaps a midnight buffet to fuel you until morning. When you are ready to sleep, your stateroom will be waiting for you with a freshly turned-down bed.

When selecting a cruise that includes New Year’s Eve, be aware that some cruise ports are quiet on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, while others bustle with activity as usual – your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert can provide guidance. If you prefer to stay on board and take full advantage of the ship’s amenities during the New Year celebration, you might like a cruise that spends the holiday at sea.

Also, consider the advantages of larger ships and smaller ships. Larger ships tend to be more family-oriented (which means there will be plenty of kids). If you prefer a kid-free environment, smaller ships tend to attract more adults who are not traveling with kids; and, some cruise lines offer adults-only cruises. You should probably pack your most elegant party clothes for a small-ship New Year’s Eve, too, while a large ship’s dress code may be more casual.

It’s best to make plans for any holiday season cruise well in advance to ensure the availability of the ship and itinerary you want. Still, if you’d like to ring in 2013 on a cruise, call Anita at Cruise Holidays right away to find out what’s available. Or, call now to start planning for New Year’s Eve 2014!

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas have enticed thousands of vacationers to sail the Caribbean on ships that are unique in their design and amenities. The Oasis was launched three years ago, and was joined by the Allure a year later. While still young in industry terms, the ships have added some new features that make them even more appealing to cruise fans.

The Oasis and the Allure are the largest cruise ships at sea and the first to be organized by “neighborhood” (indeed, with the capacity for 5,400 passengers each, these ships are more populous than some small cities). Each ship has seven neighborhoods, including Central Park, a meandering garden lined with shops and restaurants; and the charming Boardwalk, which leads to the open air AquaTheater. Here, passengers can see a show of fountains, lights and aerial acrobatics at night.

The ships offer lots of staterooms that overlook the water, many with balconies. Thanks to the ships’ unique design, some staterooms have interior views of Central Park or the Boardwalk.

No matter which stateroom you choose, you may not spend much time there. You’ll want to try the zip line over Central Park, test your surfing skills on a FlowRider simulator, ride the carousel on the Boardwalk, and enjoy the fabulous restaurants.

Worried about finding your way on these massive ships? Passengers who’ve sailed on them rave about touch-screen computerized maps available throughout Oasis and Allure. Tell the computer where you want to go, and it maps out the correct deck and the exact walking route to that destination. It also provides real-time data on how busy all of the restaurants are.

Both the Oasis and the Allure recently introduced dining packages that make it easy for passengers to enjoy some of the ships’ alternative dining venues. For example, the Choice Dining Package includes dinners at Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table Italian Trattoria, and either Izumi Asian Cuisine or the Solarium Bistro. Each ship has also added a Starbucks, so passengers can enjoy their favorite coffee- and tea-based beverages while relaxing on deck.

The ships are known for their technical innovations, too. Royal Caribbean recently announced that by summer 2013, the Oasis will be able to provide passengers with high-speed, satellite-delivered broadband service for convenient – and fast – Internet communications.

To find out how you can sail the Caribbean on the Oasis or the Allure, talk with Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.

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