Monday, July 30, 2012

Hotel Review -Crowne Plaza, Seattle Washington

What a gem of a hotel the Crowne Plaza Seattle Hotel is.  We recently stayed here for a conference and were pleasantly surprised at the great location and accommodations.  The hotel is located at 1113 Sixth Avenue in Seattle Washington 15 miles from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport and one mile from Pier 66.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by very friendly reservation attendants who quickly checked us in.  The room and hotel are very clean. Our room featured two double beds, a good sized bathroom and a view of the highway. Here are some of this pet friendly hotel features:
  • Plush Sleep Advantage™ beds
  • 37" Flat-screen TVs with premium cable channels
  • High-speed Internet access (additional fee)
  • Work desk with lamp, phone, and voicemail setup
  • Convenient hairdryer, bathrobe, iron, & ironing board
  • Complimentary weekday morning newspaper
Check in time is 4 PM and check out time is 12 PM. There are also suites with separate living room areas, a sofa bed, dining table and miniature refrigerators. If you upgrade to a Club Floor, you will be treated to Club Lounge access, free continental breakfast, and free evening hors d'oeuvres.

The hotel has the Regatta Bar and Grill that serves buffet and a la carte breakfast items as well as lunch and dinner menus.It is a short walk to many outstanding restaurants in the downtown area. 
The location is the best feature. We were within walking distance of many sites such as the Pike Place Market, Monorail to the Space Needle, the waterfront area and the convention center. 
There is also a complimentary business center on the 5th floor. There is wi-fi access at additional charge.
Call us to book! 516-608-0568

Seattle - More Than A Cruise Port

For a long time I've had Seattle, Washington pinned as a place I've been to because I was there for about an hour - long enough to disembark from a cruise ship and get to the airport.

Having recently had the pleasure of spending several days there at a travel conference, I discovered that this wonderful city is much more than a cruise port. This trip, I didn't have enough time to visit and do everything I discovered there is to do.

The downtown area is simple to get around. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza at 6th and Seneca and were able to walk to almost anywhere we wanted.  To get to the Seattle Conference Center - walk through the park across the street.

For the Pike Place Market, walk down 6th to Pike and walk to the water. To get to the Space Needle,  walk down 5th Avenue  to the Westlake Center and take the monorail to the Needle.

Like shopping? Everything from Gucci, Nordstrom and Brooks Brothers to handcrafted cheese, soaps and fish throwing at the Pike Place Market can be discovered. There is also no lack of coffee shops here, the home of the first Starbucks (still located at the Pike Place Market). Starbucks abound, along with Seattle's Best and Tully's.

Here is a list of some not to be missed things to do in Seattle.

1. Built for the 1962 World's Fair and celebrating it's 50th birthday in 2012, the Space Needle is one of the top attractions in Seattle.  From a platform 520 feet high, on a clear day you can see the entire city of Seattle and the outskirts, including the Cascade Mountain, Mt. Rainer. There is also a revolving restaurant on top (make reservations for dinner). Get here on the monorail from the Westlake Center, also built for the Seattle World's Fair.

2. Next door to the Space Needle is Chihuly Garden and Glass. This museum opened in 2012 and houses the most extensive collection of glass works from artist Dale Chihuly.  Buy a combo ticket for both.  The glass pieces are unbelievable, you will find yourself saying "how did he do that?". Look carefully at the round spheres in the outdoor garden - you will see how clever Chihuly was to place them so almost all show a reflection of the Space Needle on them.

3. During the day, take a walk to the Pike Place Market, a wonderful collection of funky stores, resturants and fishmongers. There are over 250 shops,100 farmers, 100 street performers and 200 craftsmen do business in this market.  Beware - it closes at 6 PM, so you must get there during the day to see anything. One of our biggest disappointments, because we had meetings being held until after 6 and we were unable to see the stores in action. You can get a guided tour here as well.

4. Go on a wonderful dinner cruise on Puget Sound.

5. See the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center.

6. The the eclectic Underground Tour and see what Seattle looked like before the great fire of 1869.

7. Visit the Northwest Rail Museum and ride an antique train at a restored Victorian Train Depot.

8. See the sights on land and sea with a Seattle Duck Tour. Or see the sights of downtown Seattle on a double decker Grayline Bus Tour.

9. See the Seattle Mariners play baseball at Safeco Park.

10. Do whale watching at nearby San Juan island.

11. Visit the Seattle Aquarium.

13. Get pampered at a spa, including the Ummelina International Day Spa.

14. Trek among the glacier routes on Mt. Rainier.

15. Do a canopy tour with Canopy Tours Northwest.

16. Visit Mt. St. Helen's, still an active volcano center.

17. Visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and follow the footsteps of past gold miners.

18. See a show or the symphony. Seattle has its share of theaters and music venues where you can see top notch shows.

19. If you have a car, bring your passport and visit Butchart Gardens in nearby Victoria, British Columbia.
 This is one of the most spectacular gardens you will ever see.  Stay until dark and then view the lovely city of Victoria lit up on your way back.

20. Visit the EMP Museum, a music, film, pop cultures and sci-fi museum loaded with hands on experiences and iconic artifacts. Next door, visit the Pacific Science Center with more than 300 more exhibits, an IMAX theater and plenty of hands on fun.

21.Do a walking Seattle Food Tour.

22. Visit Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, on the waterfront. Over 1001 curios, oddities, art. gifts and souvenirs.
23. Do a scenic seaplane flight.

24. Visit Miners Landing at Pier 57, a historic pier where a new ride, Great Wheel, will be opening end of June.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Secrets of Cruise Ship Pricing

Secrets of Cruise Ship Cabin Pricing

You read the cruise ship ads, decide on a ship and you want that $299 price you see advertised for a cabin.  Then you find out that $299 cruise ship price is non-existent – or worse, for a cabin under the theater.  How does cruise ship pricing work?

Every cruise line has a few basic cabin categories  – interior (no windows), oceanview (a window to see out of your room), verandah or balcony rooms (with a sliding glass door and small balcony you can sit on), mini-suites or suites (balcony cabins that are larger  may even  have several bedrooms, depending on the ship).

But within each category, you can have up to seven different prices for the same cabin.  Why? Because cabin pricing is based on the location of your cabin on the ship.  You can have price differences of several hundred dollars on the same exact cabin based on where it is located.

When you see a price advertised as “starting at $XXX” that price is for the lowest priced interior cabin on the ship, unless specified differently.  The lowest priced cabins are located in the worst areas of the ship – either the lowest passenger deck, or all the way in the front and all the way in the back of the ship.  More desirable cabin locations, such as mid-ship, where you will feel the least amount of movement, and cabins located on higher decks increase in price depending on the location. High decks are desirable, but you may  feel more movement the higher you are as well.

Location is extremely important when you are booking a cruise.  Having been in a cabin over a nightclub on one cruise and not sleeping through the night for an entire week, our goal when booking your cabin is to look carefully at what is above and below your cabin to ensure you will have a cabin that is amenable to sleeping at night.

Cabins in the very front and back of the ship are not necessarily bad locations.  You will feel a bit more ship movement when sailing in the very front and rear of the ship.  But if you never suffer from seasickness, the location may not bother you.  If you do get seasick, or you think you might, booking a mid-ship cabin on a lower deck will result in less movement and a smoother ride. Expect to pay more for those cabins than the lead in price.  But the larger the cruise ship, in most cases the less movement you will feel.  We have sailed on the three largest cruise ships in the world – the Oasis and Allure of the Seas and the Norwegian Epic and we can tell you in some cases we never knew the ship was moving.

Some cruise lines sell “guarantee” cabins for slightly lower prices. You may also see these offered  if the ship has sold out most of their cabins and they offer a guarantee rather than an assigned cabin.   When booking a guaranteed cabin, you do not get to choose your cabin location – the cruise line does.  You are guaranteed that the lowest cabin category you will receive is the one you book (interior, oceanview, balcony, etc). You might also find the “upgrade fairy” has landed and you are assigned to a higher category than you booked (which is very rare).  But you could also end up under the buffet or over the casino, or at the very bottom or front of the ship.  You do not get the choice of a cabin.  Our experience with clients booking guarantees is 50/50 – 50% were happy with their cabin locations and 50% weren’t.  Not every cruise line or ship offers this type of cabin, but you must make a decision that you can live with while you are on the cruise as to whether you would be happy with any location, because once assigned, that is your cabin for the cruise, you don’t get to give it back and ask for another.

In addition, taxes and port fees are not included in the lead in price you see, they are extra. Port fees are the fee that each port charges the cruise line for each passenger who is on the ship.  Every port has these fees and the cruise lines pass that per person fee on to each passenger. Make sure you are quoted a price that includes everything.

Most cabins can only accommodate up to four people in a cabin.  The usual pricing you see if based on double occupancy (two people in a cabin) and  the first two people pay the lead in rate and the third and fourth are at a lower rate with kids in two cabins. (Pricing is never based on age – it is based on the number of people in the cabin ).  People traveling in a cabin by themselves also pay a higher rate.  If you need a cabin for more than four, unless you can book a family cabin or suite that can accommodate five or six, you will need to book two cabins.  On most cruise lines, children under the age of 18 need an adult over 21 in a cabin with them.  Travel agents know how to book to ensure the age requirements are met. When traveling with kids in another cabin, the cabin usually must be next to or adjoining the parents cabin, or across the hallway from the parents. If you are traveling with kids, we advise booking your cruise six months or more in advance to ensure you can get cabins situated as they need to be.

In most cases, you will get the best pricing by booking two cabins, rather than a larger suite (many suites do not hold more than four people). Our experience is that booking an interior cabin for the kids next to or across the hall from parents is less expensive than booking a one or two bedroom suite if the ship has them.

Babies must pay full price too!  Infants under six months of age are not permitted to sail as are women who are pregnant and will be in their 24th week anytime during the cruise. (Some cruise lines cut off at 20 weeks). Babies over six months can.  It doesn’t matter if you are bringing your infant a pack n play to sleep in, they are charged as a full passenger because they have a “berth” which counts towards the maximum number of people permitted to sail.

Book your cruise through an experienced cruise travel agent to ensure you have no surprises after booking and that you know the full cost of your cruise. Promal Vacations is a CLIA member, we have an accredited cruise counselor on site and are cruise specialists.  Call us at 516-608-0568 to book your cruise.