Wednesday, April 18, 2012

River Cruising - The Hottest Craze in Cruising

River cruising is becoming the hottest trend in traveling. It is becoming so popular that many river cruise companies are ordering new ships to accommodate the influx of passengers looking for new itineraries and experiences.

Once a niche product, river cruising is becoming extremely attractive to cruise clients who have been on most of the traditional cruise itineraries. With the lack of new cruise ports that clients haven't already sailed to, river cruising offers a very different experience than ocean cruising. Passengers love the fact that you don't just "visit" a destination, you "experience" it.

If any of you remember the movie from the 1960's "If it's Tuesday it Must Be Belgium", where the movie follows a group of tourists on a whirlwind 18 day sightseeing tour of Europe, you can now do a similar itinerary on a river cruise and pack and unpack once and have a much more leisurely experience. Unlike an ocean cruise, as your ship cruises rivers, you will actually have a view as your ship meanders up and down the scenic rivers. You'll cruise through the heart of small towns and villages. You may see castles shore side. Wave to residents from your balcony. Your ship will be docked overnight, allowing you to immerse yourself into the culture of the town, having dinner and perhaps sipping coffee at an outdoor cafe.

You are also more immersed in the culture of the countries you visit on a river cruise. On most river cruises, excursions are included and usually beer and wine. You receive more value for your money. Off the ships there are walking tours, food tastings, and many cultural excursions. Ama Waterways ships have bicycles on board that passengers can take right off the ship and explore the small towns the ships stop at.Ships are smaller and more intimate than traditional cruise ships. Most have balconies or Juliet balconies. While long ago river cruise ships were bare bones and basic, today's ships have cabins that are 50% larger, anywhere from 140 feet and up (200 square feet in some ships), luxurious accommodations and great cuisine. These ships are floating boutique hotels.

Variety is the biggest draw of river cruises - wherever there is a river, you can usually find a cruise. From Russia to the Nile River to a safari river cruise in Tanzania, there is something for everyone. How about Holland during tulip season? Or a Wine Cruise through Europe?

Themed cruises abound. Besides Wine Cruises. how about Tulip Time Cruises, Europe's Rivers and Castles, Black Sea Voyages or Provence and Spain? These are a small sampling of the many different types of river cruises available.

What won't you have on a river cruise? If you like the hot lights of Broadway type shows, gambling, games, huge pools - you may not enjoy a river cruise. Ships are more elegantly appointed with much smaller guest numbers - some ships accommodate less than 200 people.

Are you ready to book? Contact us - 516-608-0568 - to find the best river cruise for you!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Price Versus Value When Vacationing

When you think about going on vacation, do you want value for your vacation dollar or do you want the least expensive price you can find? Warren Buffett said "Price is what you pay, value is what you get". Do you know the difference? Price is what you pay, value is what you believe the vacation experience is worth to you. We've found in most cases when we speak to a client, there is a direct conflict between price and value.

If you contact us requesting the cheapest hotel we can find, but then tell us you want good customer service, nice updated rooms, cleanliness and amenities, you are asking for value. Many times you will not receive the experience you are looking for by asking for the cheapest price. If you want to sleep in your clothes because the sheets are dirty, or need to wear shoes every minute you are in the room because the rugs are filthy - that is what the cheapest price may get you.

All inclusive resorts can be a great value for your dollar, because your food, drinks and non-motorized water sports are included. Yet there can be huge differences in the experience based on the cheapest price vs. something in the moderate or luxury category.

Several years ago, we stayed at a resort in Jamaica. We were given a tour of the hotel first. I was impressed with the pools, slides and beach. As we were taken around the property and inside to the spa, I noticed mold on the ceiling and dirty foot spas. We were then taken to see a one bedroom suite on the "penthouse" floor. Not what I would expect from a suite, but it was okay. It was clean.

Then it was time for us to check in to our room. The check in experience was awful. Waited on line to check in for nearly an hour. When we got off the elevator on the floor to our room, things turned uglier. We were obviously a life time away from the room we toured. The rugs were dirty and the hallways smelled musty. Entering our room, the tile floors were filthy, there was a broken light in the dirty bathroom, the room smelled of mildew thanks to an air conditioning filter that appeared to have a full coat of snow on it as it hadn't been cleaned in years, and our balcony door took all of our strength to open and close.

The area rugs between the beds were filthy and the blankets on the bed were disgusting. Went down to the lobby to ask for another room and we were told the hotel was sold out and there was no other room to move us to. So we had to deal with it by spraying our pillows with perfume when we were in the room. Our room view ended up being staring at cruise ships right across the beach from the hotel.

It was all inclusive, but drinks were not top shelf and food was terrible. The drinks were watered down and the only brand name we recognized was Red Stripe. Nightlife consisted of local singers in one of the "clubs".

Yet we met many happy travelers around the pool. Most were from Great Britain and when I asked why they chose the resort, the answer was always the same. Europeans get much more vacation time than Americans do and this resort was affordable to them because they could stay there for three weeks for the same cost they could stay at a better resort for ten days. I asked what they thought of the food, and not one of them raved about anything - food or drinks - but said that was still offset by being able to stay for a long time period.

These travelers felt they got the value they were looking for by staying at this resort. But would this kind of service and resort be what you want from the "cheapest" resort?

Even within all inclusive resorts, there can be big differences in what is and isn't included. Some resorts only include house brand liquors and one or two activities, some offer top shelf booze, private wines and many include activities such as golf and scuba diving. Are you willing to pay a little more for this type of vacation?

You also receive value by booking through a travel agent vs. booking online. Maybe you'll spend an extra $100 booking through a travel agent (although we among many can usually price match a land vacation) but you will get value. How? We are certified with many resorts and cruise lines and can obtain extras for you on occasion, such as a free upgrade, bottle of wine, onboard credit, etc. You have someone who knows what documents you will need totravel with. You have someone who has been to many of the hotels or resorts you may be interested in and if we haven't been there ourselves, who know another agent who has and can give you honest feedback.

Have you ever booked through an online agency and had your flights changed or cancelled? Do you know how some online agencies tell you about a flight change or cancellation? Via e-mail, not even a phone call. What happens if you don't check your e-mail 20 times a day and missed the e-mail the night before you were leaving that your flight time was moved up an hour? You arrive at the airport and don't check in an hour before your flight and thus aren't allowed to board. When you book through an agent, we will advise you of checking the time of your flights and when we are notified that your flight may have changed, will pick up the phone and call to make sure you are aware.

If your flight has been canceled, we will be on the phone with your supplier or airline to make changes before we even call you. You can call us if there is a problem while traveling and have us try to resolve your problem while you are traveling instead of waiting until you get home to say you didn't have a great vacation. We have more pull with a resort or cruise based on booking volume than an individual would have booking on their own.

Next time you start planning your vacation - think of whether you really want the "cheapest" vacation or one with the most "value". We would be happy to get the best value for your dollar! 516-608-0568. And we'll even tell you the name of the hotel we wrote about.