Monday, February 25, 2013

Premium Cruise Lines - Are They Worth the Price?

Too often, people tend to stick with what they know and love when choosing a cruise line and ship for a vacation.  Most of the cruise lines we book for clients are mass market cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, NCL, Princess, Holland America and Celebrity.

There are many cruise lines that are considered luxury lines and most people never think about cruising on them.  Yet in many cases, these cruises may cost less than the mass market lines when you consider what is and isn’t included. You won’t feel nickled and dimed to death on these ships. Service will be a much more intimate experience, since ships are smaller and the ratio of crew to passengers is greater. 

Azamara Club Cruises, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas and all of the river cruise lines are considered luxury cruise lines.  What do you get for the price you pay?

Azamara Club cruises spend more time in port than other lines so you have a real good feel of the port you are visiting.  They offer complimentary beer and wine at dinner (as well as soft drinks, coffee and bottled water) that can be a huge money saver, considering the average glass of wine on a ship usually starts at $8 per glass.  Gratuities are also included, another savings of as much as $15 per person per day.  Booking shore excursions in advance can save you up to 50% on the cost of an excursion. Also included is complimentary self-service laundry and shuttle service to and from ports where available. While they don’t offer two for one air on their cruises, if you book air through their air department you can get some great savings on air.

Oceania often offers 2 for 1 cruise fares with free economy air from 27 U.S. cities. They also are currently running a Business class air promotion on 16 European cruises for certain cabin categories (offer expires March 31). They do not charge for alternative dining, but do charge for wine and beer at lunch and dinner but they do have two beverage packages that can be purchased.  Bottled water, soft drinks, juice, cappuccino, espresso, tea and coffee are included in your cruise fare. This line does charge for gratuities (up to $13.50 per person per day). No fees for specialty restaurants and there are often specials that might include pre-paid gratuities as a bonus.

Take a look a what Regent Seven Seas offers :

2-for-1 Fares PLUS Additional Bonus Savings of up to $13,000 Per Suite
free roundtrip air*,free Business Class Air* in penthouse suites and higher on Europe Voyages,free unlimited shore excursions,free Luxury Hotel Package
free unlimited beverages Including fine wines and premium spirits,free open bars and lounges plus in-suite mini-bar replenished daily,free pre-paid gratuities,free ground transfers,free 24-hour room service and no charge for specialty restaurants,welcome bottle of champagne.

Crystal Cruises now includes gratuities and alcohol in their fare. Fares often include two for one deals and early booking will get you the best deals.

Here is an actual  price comparison – Oceania vs. Princess  for a Greek Isle cruise in May, 2013. Pricing is as of Feb. 23, 2013. Oceania offers free airfare and has a current promotion with  free pre-paid gratuities for this cruise plus 2 for 1 savings.  For the least expensive balcony stateroom on Oceania, the cruise for two people would cost $7398 – including air and the current promotions.  Neither of us drinks liquor, so the free bottled water, soda and coffees are all we need during this cruise.

The Princess cruise is $5928.58 for two people in the lowest balcony category.  Add air from JFK at $2332 (for two people), gratuities of $161 ($11.50 p/p per day), $210 for soda and bottled water ($15 per day per person) and you have a total of $8631.58 for the Princess cruise. Choosing Oceania would provide a savings of at least  $1233.58.  If we chose to dine at alternate dining venues on Princess (included with Oceania) our cruise fare would be more.

River cruises also offer much more than a traditional cruise line. Besides a more intimate setting, with a smaller passenger load and smaller passenger to staff ratio, river cruises offer similar savings and even more value as wine and excursions are usually also included. River cruises  bring you to the "heart" of small towns, villages and big cities like a floating hotel, avoiding  big ship industrial ports and allow you to be much more centrally located with all cultural sights just steps away. Not to mention the beautiful scenery of countrysides, vineyards and castles as opposed to the vast, open sea.

Viking River Cruises often has 2 for 1 fares, The price you pay covers just about everything—port charges, wi-fi, meals, lectures, activities and shore excursions—as well as hotel accommodations on their cruise - tour itineraries. So all you have to do is relax and enjoy a great vacation that is also a great value. All of your onboard meals are included in the cost of your fare, and on a number of itineraries you are invited to dine ashore in a pre-selected restaurant.  Complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks are served with lunch and dinner on board, and you can help yourself to tea, coffee and cappuccino at any time. Guided tours incorporate the highlights of each and every destination, and these are included in your fare. Plus, a variety of included cultural events are also offered to provide an enriching, entertaining and memorable experience. On every Viking cruise tour package, your fare includes overnight stays in major cities.

Beginning in 2014 on their Europe river cruises, Uniworld is going “all inclusive” – look at what will be included with Uniworld:

All gratuities onboard and onshore*,unlimited beverages onboard, including fine wine, beer, spirits,soft drinks, specialty coffee and tea, and bottled water*†,all meals onboard, impeccably prepared by our chefs using the finest and freshest ingredients from local farmers’ markets, all scheduled airport transfers, shore excursions hosted by English-speaking local experts, with “Choice Is Yours,” “Gentle Walking,” and “Go Active” options, complimentary portable audio headset system used on all shore excursions, a variety of complimentary culinary experiences and onboard dining options, complimentary Internet and Wi-Fi access onboard, all entertainment and Signature Lectures onboard, complimentary in-stateroom Infotainment center, complimentary well-equipped fitness center and exercise classes, complimentaryuse of bicycles and Nordic walking sticks for onshore enjoyment

AMA Waterways river cruises also offers similar savings.  Your inclusive vacation provides incredible value from the champagne breakfast and free-flowing hand-selected European wines with lunch and dinner to a fleet of bicycles, free Internet access, included sightseeing excursions and live cultural entertainment onboard. AmaWaterways also provides complimentary bottled water, specialty coffees and teas throughout your cruise. Experienced guides will lead daily, enriching excursions during your cruise, and passengers are free to use AmaWaterways' fleet of bicycles.

There are many other river cruise lines we can go into detail with, but all offer similar savings and a very different experience – instead of sailing large oceans, you are sailing smaller rivers with beautiful scenery throughout your cruise. Step off your river cruise ship in small towns and walk or bike to see the sights. River cruise ships hold at most 200 people, so you’ll  have a much more social experience getting to know fellow passengers and a more relaxed time, not having to line up on long queues getting on and off the ship.

Have we opened your eyes to the value of a luxury cruise line? Are you ready to try a luxury line or river cruise to experience the savings? Call us and we’ll find the perfect cruise for you – 516-608-0568.

*some restrictions may apply

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How To Book A Vacation With A Travel Agent

When you book a vacation online, either through a large online agency or through the supplier directly, did you know you are paying a travel agents' commission to the supplier without the advantages of booking with a travel agent?

Travel agents get paid by the supplier your vacation is booked through, not you. Yet you pay the same amount booking with an agent that you would pay booking your vacation directly through a supplier. The commission portion of your fare that we would be paid is kept by the supplier when you book your vacation directly. So why wouldn't you use a travel agent, who is there to assist you through the booking and final payment process until you return home and doesn't cost you anything?

If you book your vacation directly with a hotel, then get to the hotel and find out there is a problem with your room - who is going to get it fixed for you?  While most resorts want you to be happy, if you happen to get a front desk manager who is in less than a sunny mood, who are you going to call if you don't receive satisfaction?

When you book with us, if there is a problem, call us WHILE you are at the resort or on the cruise.  If we can't get you satisfaction with the hotel or cruise line, we will call the supplier we booked your vacation through and have them try to resolve the issue.  Our suppliers, who send thousands of people to the same resort, has much more influence to fix an issue than you would have on your own.

So what is the best way to work with a travel agent? Here are a few hints to make the process as smooth as possible:

1. Give us definite travel dates.  Since prices are based on the exact travel dates and number of days you want to be away, calling and saying you would like to go someplace for a few days at the end of June won't allow us to work as quickly as we can - it will require us to e-mail or call you back asking the same question. Have your dates when you call us.

2. Figure out your true budget for the vacation before you contact us.  The words "inexpensive", "cheap" or  "moderate" mean different things to you and to an agent. Tell us "our budget is XXXX". We are not trying to spend your entire budget for your trip, but we don't want to price a five star exclusive resort if the budget you are giving us is a three star budget. It wastes your time and ours and may end up in disappointment for you if you get excited about one of the resorts that is out of your budget. And if your budget is unreasonable, we can tell you right then and there. The days of the $700 trip to Mexico is over.  That $700 may only cover your airfare now!

3. Have some type of idea  where you would like to go. "Someplace warm" could be Georgia or St. Lucia. "Someplace different" could be Pennsylvania for some clients or Antarctica for another.

4. What do you want to do on your vacation? Do you want to be hiking, ziplining, kayaking? Do you want to take a tour in Europe and if you do, what are you interested in -  museums, churches, animals, food and wine?  Or are you looking for a resort with a beach and pool to simply chill out or use the spa?

5. Let us know if you have passports or visas. We can't quote you Europe if you don't have a passport, we can't send you to China unless you have enough time to procure a visa.

6. Last minute vacations will cost you the most, thanks to the cost of airfare.  We recommend booking your vacation a minimum of three to six months before you want to travel. Airfare goes higher the closer to your travel date as seats and flights sell out.  Book early for the best deals.

7. We are trained to book the most convenient flights for you. We make sure if your flight is a connecting flight  you have enough time to get from one flight to the next. We don't want you to have a 12 hour layover in an airport coming home.   We know how long it will take you to get through Immigration and Customs at the first airport you arrive in the U.S. from overseas and we'll make sure your connecting flight time allows enough time for both.  The cheapest flight you may book yourself online can show a 45 minute time frame between connecting flights - we know you'll never make it and can advise you accordingly.

8. Once you are booked - relax. We'll let you know what you need to travel, give you information on doing online check in (and in many cases we can do it for you).  We'll remind you to do your airline check in, pack your documents in a carry on and bring your prescriptions in a carry on as well.

9. When you arrive at your destination, if there are problems your hotel can't fix, contact us. We will work to fix the problem before you come home so you don't suffer in silence and come home to find out nothing can be done.

10. Travel insurance is your friend.  I can't tell you how many times clients have thanked us because we advised them to purchase insurance that they ended up needing for one reason or another.

Have we convinced you of the value of an agent, what we can do for you and  how you will have an advocate if something goes wrong?  Try us, you'll see how much value we provide! 516-608-0568 or check our website -