Monday, January 31, 2011

Dining Options on Princess Cruise Line

For many people, part of the joy of cruising are the many food options available on ships. Between free options such as the buffet and main dining rooms, to the newest pay restaurants on board, most people would be hard pressed not to find something they enjoy eating on a cruise.

One of our favorite cruise lines is Princess. Princess offers traditional dining, in which you eat at the same time in the same dining room with the same wait staff each night, Anytime Dining where you eat when you want in one of the main dining rooms, and optional Specialty Restaurants that there is an extra fee for. Princess offers a lot of seafood in their dining rooms, and has a chicken and beef dish available every night. There is also a small selection of items that are available every night, such as a steak and their excellent Fettucini Alfredo.

On most ships there are two specialty restaurants - Sabatini's Italian Restaurant and the Crown Grill. Our favorite is Sabatini's. When we last cruised on Princess, the only thing we chose when we arrived at Sabatini's was our main course. What came before and after was a wonderful tasting feast of small bites of appetizers, such as Calamari Fritti and Shrimp and Marinated Artichoke in Truffle Oil. As a second course, Pasta Fagioli, soup or salad. Third course is a choice of pasta, such as ravioli or mushroom noodles. Main courses are heavy on seafood such as Sea Bass, Lobster Tail, or Sea Scallops, along with chicken or veal chop.Food is served family style so you can share a taste with your dining companions. And desserts - if you like creme brulee, try their Espresso Creme Brulee - FANTASTICO! The cost is $20 per person which includes your gratuity but feel free to tip more - the service is fantastic.

If you choose to dine at one of the alternate restaurants, make reservations as soon as you get on the shp. These restaurants are small and book quickly.

Here is a tip on Princess - if your Princess ship has an International Cafe, most of the items in the Cafe are free! The Cafe offers a wonderful array of coffees (extra charge), tapas and dessert items. The majority of the food is free, so don't hesitate to try what is there. You can also purchase a Coffee Card, which is a punch card that entitles you to number of specialty coffees. With this card you can also enjoy free brewed coffee in the dining rooms, instead of the free "syruped" coffee.

How does Princess' food in the main dining rooms compare to other cruise lines? If you are a seafood lover, you will love the choices on Princess, as their menus are rich with fish. We'd rate Princess on par with Royal Caribbean's food, but a bit under Celebrity.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cruise Planning - Shore Excursions

You've put your deposit on your cruise six months ago - it's coming time for final payment. It finally seems like the cruise is here! What else needs to be done? Planning shore excursions!

In the "olden"days of cruising before the internet, you had to wait until you arrived on the ship to book your excursions. You received a booklet in the mail detailing the available excursions, circled the ones you liked and when you arrived on the ship, went to the Shore Excursions desk and purchased.

Now, the days of receiving excursion booklets and boarding passes in the mail are over and six months or more before your cruise, you can actually go to your Cruise Personalizer and buy excursions. With the advent of secondary suppliers that sell only shore excursions there are even more excursions available at different price points that you can book well in advance of your cruise.

What are the pros and cons of each?

With some of the cruise lines, such as Princess, when you book your excursions in advance, you aren't charged at the time of booking. The price of the excursions will be added to your shipboard account. Some, like Royal Caribbean, require you to pay for the excursion at the time of booking. Either way, booking your excursions in advance will guarantee you'll be able to get on the excursion. Some popular excursions, such as Dolphin Swims or Zip Lines, sell out fast and if you wait until you get on the ship to book, they may be sold out. Each cruise line has a cancellation policy so if you decide to change or cancel one of the pre-booked excursions, you can get a refund as long as you adhere to the refund guidelines.

When you book your excursion through the cruise line, you also don't have to worry about the ship leaving without you if your excursion runs late. The cruise lines keep in touch with the tour operators during the tour. Additionally, the cruise lines screen their tour operators and will end their contracts if they get complaints.

The cons? You will almost always pay more for an excursion through the cruise line, as they contract with local operators and then mark up for their expenses in getting those excursions to you.

Secondary companies often have the same or similar excursions. Often the pricing is lower, sometimes they have excursions not available through through the cruise line. The groups you will be traveling with are usually smaller and you will have a more intimate experience. Many of the companies have been in business for many years, know the cruise ship schedules and guarantee they will get you back to the ship on time.

These tour operators can be a little more flexible too. They are often open to skipping something on the excursion the group is not interested in seeing, or stopping to see something not on the itinerary you do want to see.

The drawbacks? The cancellation policies may be more stringent than the cruise lines. If they don't get you back to the ship on time and you miss the ship, you are on your own getting to the next port. (Always make sure you take your passport, a credit card and the ships daily newsletter with you when you get off the ship just in case this happens to you - you'll need to fly to the next port on your own)

And you must make sure that any secondary company you deal with requires the tour operators they contract with to have liability insurance. The cruise lines make sure all the suppliers they deal with have a LOT of liability insurance. Before booking with any outside company, make sure they require it too.

One of our preferred vendors, Shore Trips, requires $2 million in insurance from their vendors and also carry their own $2 million policy. In 10 years of being in business, neither they nor their vendors have ever had to use it. They have moved over 200,000 passengers without mishap - or getting them back to the ship late! Click on the logo for more information

There is also a third option for excursions - when you get to the pier, there are always people at the pier hawking their own tours. We do not recommend these - you have no way of knowing who these people are, where they will take you and you can pretty well consider that these operators have no insurance in the event of an accident. There is no guarantee of safety when doing this.

What are our recommendations?For first time cruisers, we always recommend using the cruise line excursions. No worry about missing the ship.

And if you are traveling to a country where there are government warnings about security - always book through the cruise line. They are very interested in keeping their passengers safe.

For experienced cruisers who know about getting back to the ship on time, using an outside company is another option to save money and perhaps see something a little different in a more intimate setting. Just make sure you set your watch to the ships time and know what time the ship is leaving!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Celebrity Silhouette Sailing from NJ to Southern Caribbean

For years, travel agents in the metro New York area have been asking the cruise lines for newer ships and new itineraries. How many times can New Englanders sail to Bermuda?

Well, Celebrity has answered us by not only being the first cruise line to put a brand new ship in New York but to finally have an itinerary that goes to islands that have never been sailed from New York!

Beginning in November, the Celebrity Silhouette will begin sailing 12 night Southern Caribbean Itineraries from Cape Liberty, NJ through April of 2012! There will be several itineraries, visiting such exotic islands as Antigua, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, St. Kitts, St. Thomas, Labadee and San Juan, depending on the itinerary you choose. For years, getting to some of the locations required cruising from Florida or San Juan - and now you can visit them from New Jersey.

The Silhouette is a sister ship to the Solstice, Equinox and the Eclipse but with some exciting differences. Gone is the Glass Blowing Show and Museum and new will be the Lawn Club Grill and the Alcoves. The Lawn Club grill is an outdoor grill on the Lawn making your dining experience feel like you are dining in the Hamptons! The Alcoves are cabana type retreats for two to four guests that can be rented by the day or half day. You'll be able to enjoy a la carte food and beverages delivered in picnic baskets. They will even have wi-fi access!

Celebrity is one of the most elegant cruise lines with spectacular food. Celebrity is also one of the only cruise lines that offer Drink Packages that anyone can buy. On other lines, having a beverage package entailed booking a group with more than 50 people traveling that required everyone in the group purchase the package. Not on Celebrity! There are also non-alcholic packages for purchase that take care of all you can drink soda, bottles juices, fresh squeezed juices, premium and specialty non-alcoholic coffees, Evian and Pellegrino, Vitamin Water, Red Bull and Frozen Non Alcoholic Drinks.

If you'd like to see pictures of the Celebrity Solstice to get an idea of what the Silhouette will look like, take a look at the pictures we took when we sailed the Solstice.

Besides this exciting new ship, Celebrity also has some great specials on Caribbean and Europe sailings, with cruise credits for booking your trip and air with Choice Air for booking verandahs and suites.

If you'd like to receive more information, please get in touch with us.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Pros and Cons of Destination Weddings

According to The Wedding Report, the average cost of a wedding nationwide is $29,000. While wedding couples can spend a few thousand dollars on a “do it yourself” wedding in a small hall, such as a VFW, with catered food, the majority of weddings cost well over $20,000.

Add your honeymoon onto that – the average price of a honeymoon in 2009 (before airfare pricing started to spike) was $3700, according to Put them together and you could have a great down payment on a house!

A Destination Wedding can be a cost effective solution, providing you with a wedding and honeymoon for sometimes little more than the cost of a honeymoon only.

How is that? Many resorts specializing in Destinations Weddings offer free or low cost weddings based on the room category, number of days booked and sometimes the number of rooms booked by your guests. Some offer free upgrades based on this criteria also.

BUT – there are pro’s and con’s to a Destination Wedding. We’ll detail both for you, so you can determine if this type of wedding might meet your needs.


- Less expensive – you can save $15,000 and up vs. a traditional wedding

- More intimate – since only your closest family and friends usually attend, you’ll be able to enjoy your guests more with less stress.

- Easier planning – you will work with the resort wedding planner via e-mail to plan your wedding details – we do the rest for you.

- Less stress - since the bridal couple usually needs to be at the resort several days before the wedding to finalize plans, you’ll be able to wake up in a beautiful setting on your wedding day, dress and walk (or take a golf cart) to your wedding.

- It’s different! Not many bridal couples will be having their wedding in paradise, away from the hustle and bustle of every day life. It will be a memorable occasion for you and your guests – a once in a lifetime experience.

- No need to get up early after the wedding to get to the airport for your honeymoon flights – you are already there.

- A Certified Destination Wedding and Honeymoon planner can handle all details of your wedding planning, from resort recommendations to special requests.


- Sometimes causes family friction

- It is expensive for guests to attend – only your closest friends and family will attend. Take the number of people who say “Wow, great idea, I’ll be there” and cut it by two thirds – in our experience, that is how many actually book once it comes time to making deposits.

- Guests that do attend usually give smaller gifts - due to the added cost of attending.

- Resort choice may be limited- If children will be invited, you are limited to family friendly resorts, rather than adult only resorts

At Promal Vacations, we are certified Destination Wedding and Honeymoon planners and can help you plan an unforgettable wedding and honeymoon. When you book your destination wedding with us, we provide you with a private website for your guests to read about your resort and all your wedding information. In addition, we can set up a Honeymoon Registry. Then your guests can guests can purchase gifts for your wedding or honeymoon if they desire.

Stay tuned to our blog – a future entry will have more Destination Wedding information.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

All Inclusive Vacation Trends

As travel agents who sell many all inclusive vacations, we follow the news and trends for this type of vacation closely.

We are seeing a tremendous growth in all inclusive travel. One reason why is that with an all inclusive vacation, you know what you will be spending when you book. In many resorts, there is not much to add on, except perhaps tips and excursions off the resort. Food and drink are included as are many activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, etc. (depending on the resort you choose). Some resorts do not allow tipping either, unless you are in a butler or concierge category!

One trend we are seeing is people who were avid cruisers moving to all inclusive vacations. Most cruises don't include liquor, beer, wine and soda and charge for things like ice cream, specialty coffee, and more. Many of our clients who were confirmed cruisers are telling us that they end up saving money staying at an all inclusive - they've spent more on extras like liquor than they spent on their cruise and found it much more economical at an all inclusive.

Many all inclusives also work well for groups. It is important to use a travel agent if you are booking a group as many resorts are conducive to couples only and you need an experienced agent who can guide you to the right resort for your group. Some resorts don't allow children and those that cater to couples usually do not offer two beds in a room - which can make for an awkward situation with singles rooming together.

Resort pricing has remained on a par with third quarter 2010 pricing and some areas of the Caribbean, such as Mexico, offer excellent value. Air pricing is becoming an issue for any type of vacation. To get the best pricing for air, book a least six months before you are traveling. As the planes fill their seats, pricing goes up. You don't want to book your dream vacation and then find out the only flights left have two connections or a 12 hour layover in an airport.

So for your next vacation, consider an All Inclusive resort in the Caribbean - you'll have thousands to choose from.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Having Fun on the Allure of the Seas

We were lucky enough to spend a few days on Royal Caribbeans Allure of the Seas and had potential clients ask us what our favorite things to do on the ship were. It was really difficult to pull only a few favorite things from our Caribbean cruise, but here are our top three:

1. Blue Planet. Royal Caribbean has put the most fantastic shows on the Allure and it's sister ship, Oasis of the Seas, but this show was my favorite! If you like Cirque de Soleil, you will love this show. The acrobatics and music are superb. Put that together with a ship that is sailing along the ocean - you've just seen a show that you would pa upwards of $100 per ticket in Vegas to see.

2. Central Park. This area is so innovative! From the sculptures to the restaurants to the lovely quietness at night, this area of the ship was one of our favorites. We particularly enjoyed having a drink at the bar at night and looking up at the stars. A unique restaurant has no extra fee is the Park Cafe. They serve custom made salads, paninnis and desserts for lunch and dinner and a make your own bagel bar in the morning for breakfast.

3. Dreamworks Parade. I am one who is not particularly fond of the Parades in the Promenade - I am claustrophobic and never feel like any parade is worth being uncomfortable in a crowd of several thousand people. But for this Parade, we found the perfect spot (which we share with our clients) to view this delightful parade. I never had so much fun.

We share these and more fun hints for the Allure and the Oasis of the Seas with everyone who books with us. Check our Webshots pictures too!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dollar Thrifty Car Rentals Go Smoke Free

Today we read an article in Travel Weekly that Dollar Thrifty and participating franchisees have adopted a fleet-wide no smoking policy and warns renters who do not comply may face a cleaning charge of up to $250.

As a former smoker and frequent traveler, I applaud this move and will likely turn to Dollar/Thrifty first when needing a rental car. For non-smokers, there is nothing worse than taking the keys to your rental car and immediately being bombarded with the smell of stale cigarette smoke upon opening the door.

However, on the flip side, as travel agents, we must now make sure we ask clients if they smoke or not before making a car rental reservation for them and advise them of the policy if Dollar/Thrifty is the best priced car rental for the client. Of course a plus for travelers using a travel agent to book their cars is that we can tell them about the policy before the client arrives to pick up their car and be faced with a surprise no one told them about.

We'd love to hear your opinion on this subject.

Promal Vacations
Making Your Dream Vacation a Reality!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Are We Cruise Specialists?

We took our first cruise in 2000 on the Celebrity Century. We had thought about cruising for several years but needed to get over two "fears" about cruising - the thought we'd feel trapped on the days at sea, knowing we couldn't get off the ship, and we thought we'd be bored on sea days.

We're happy to say that those fears proved ridiculous. In fact, we fell in love with cruising on that first trip and have taken many cruises since. We love the idea of being able to visit up to five or more countries in one week. Seeing different cultures and different places in such a short time period is amazing. And being bored? Heck no - there is so much to do on a cruise ship when you are at sea! From just relaxing by the pool, to taking classes, to seeing shows and events - it never gets boring on a cruise. We cruise so much, we know all the in's and outs, such as carefully looking at where a cabin is located before booking, the pluses and minuses of dining times, and we know the ships. We listen to what you are looking for in a cruise and can refer you to the best cruise line and ship for your needs. We provide every first time cruiser with our Guide to Cruising so you know exactly what to expect!

We are the best at what we do - you'll know everything you need to know about cruising by booking with us!

Promal Vacations - Making your dream vacation a reality!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hotel Review- Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa- Hollywood, Florida

Several times a year we travel throughout the world to attend conferences and classes. Sometimes the resorts or hotels these are held at can be less than desirable but sometimes we find a gem or a resort - and this is one of those gems.

We arrived at the Ft. Lauderdale airport and had our favorite shuttle service, Sun and Moon Express, pick us up for the half hour ride to the Westin Diplomat. Located on a pretty strip of a beach, we were lucky enough to arrive before Christmas when the resort was decorated in it's full holiday beauty.

We were immediately assisted by a valet who took our luggage and guided us to the beautiful lobby. The lobby was huge, with the standard fountains, plenty of seating, bars, restaurants, a sundry store and more. The hotel is split into two towers, North and South. Check in was very quick and the front desk clerks were extremely courteous. Our room was on the 21st floor of the South Tower. We got our key, grabbed our luggage and took one of the many elevators to our room.

The room was very well apportioned. Our room faced the Intracoastal and State Road A1A. Upon entering, the bathroom was to the immediate left. There were separate shower and toilet enclosed glass rooms, the sink and a huge tub on the right. The wall above the tub had shutters that opened directly into the room. There were two heavy robes in the bathroom for use. Toiletries included nice spa type soaps and shampoo.

Past the bathroom was the actual room. We had a room with two queen sized beds which were to the left in the room. To the right was a sleek credenza with a granite top, flat screen t.v. refrigerator with mini bar and a separate empty refrigerator, along with some drawers in between the two. There was also a coffee maker.

Also in the room was a desk and chair and an easy chair. The balcony was past that with wonderful views of the sunset at night. The closet had plenty of hangers, a safe on top of the shelf (difficult to get to) and ironing board and iron.

Beds were very comfortable and the room was very clean. Mini-bar items were very expensive - we never used any of the mini-bar items. Internet access in the room was $14.95 per day, but there is free wireless access in the lobby - which was crowded most of the time with people and their laptops.

After putting away our clothing, we decided to take a walk and see what else was in the hotel. In the lobby, we had a drink at the bar, which also had a small sushi restaurant with some excellent sushi. There is also a Cafe which is open until about 10 PM that had pre-made sandwiches, salads, muffins, soda, water, bottle juices and absolutely fantastic gelato.

There were several other restaurants on property that we didn't have a chance to eat at because we were in classes and meetings both days of our stay. We did buy a few things from the sundries shop to snack on in the room.

Since it was dark when we arrived, we didn't get to see the pools and beach until the next day. The outside property was excellent, with two stories of pools. The upper pool was an infinity pool with plenty of lounger chairs. The pools on the lower deck featured a waterfall, several hot tubs and meandered from each tower. In the center was a chair that enabled a wheelchair patron to be lowered and raised in and out of the water. There was a bar on the lower level.

Around the pools were private cabanas and casitas that could be rented out or that you could get a massage in. They also had an inflatable kids jumping cage. The beach itself was lovely - clean, with some covered seating.

There is also a Kids Club with activities for the kids for an extra fee.

Most of our time was spent in the meeting rooms. The rooms were a bit chilly at all times. The convention center is in the southernmost wing of the hotel, which was totally separate from the rest of the hotel. Since there were times we needed to board buses to go out of the hotel with our group, this was convenient as it didn't interfere with the regular comings and goings from the hotel.

We noticed a strange phenomenon that occurred at dusk every evening. A huge flock of birds begins chirping and starts gathering around the convention center. Suddenly, with one fell swoop, they all fly into the air and then onto the roof of the parking garage across the street. It happened every evening of our stay and was quite entertaining to watch. You almost watch for Tippy Hedrin to appear on the garage roof with them!

Across the street from the hotel was a huge parking garage. When looking at it, it appears that there was shopping also in it but in fact there was not. There were two restaurants and a bar and one or two stores that were closed at night. We didn't quite understand the point of the garage, since it appeared nearly empty. There is a walkway over the road right from the hotel to walk over to it. We did have drinks one night outside overlooking the intracoastal. Self parking is $20 per day.

The only issue we found with the hotel is that there is really nothing else around it. If you don't have a car, you need to be prepared to relax, as there is no shopping or activities other than what is at the resort. There is a spa on site, but we did not have the time to avail ourselves to any treatments.

There is a free shuttle that goes between the beach and the golf club. In addition, the City of Hollywood has a pay trolley that has three different routes. The South Beach Line picks up at the WESTIN and has a few stops. You can transfer to two other lines. We did go into downtown Hollywood one night and enjoyed a delightful evening exploring and having dinner and drinks at some of the restaurants in the area.

Next time we cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, we plan on staying here and spending a few days to enjoy the beach and the resort. It was a very nice change of pace. It's also a great convention hotel.