Tips for solo travelers to make the cruise world fair

Tips for solo travelersAn ongoing complaint about cruise vacations has been from solo cruisers; people traveling alone. Solo cruisers pay double the cruise fare most of the time because cruise lines base their world on double-occupancy. That does not mean that solo cruisers just have to resign themselves to either paying double or forgetting about going on a cruise. Things are changing and there are steps the solo traveler can take to get the best possible value.

To be fair, the cruise industry is changing a little. Not much, but a little. Norwegian Cruise Line added solo studios to their new Norwegian Epic, an industry first and quite the experiment. The cruise world watched closely to check the popularity of the new accommodations. Apparently the results don’t have other cruise lines rushing to the drawing board to see if they can modify ships and cash in on the bonanza. Still, Norwegian is trying and singles like the Epic studios which recently won a design award from Travel + Leisure magazine.

But other than that bold move by Norwegian, we’ve just heard some rumblings about Royal Caribbean maybe slapping a few on some of the older ships during drydock. There is not a lot of help coming for singles from the cruise industry. The solo traveler will have to take the lead to make it happen but significant savings can be realized by being actively involved over the life of their cruise booking. Check these tips:

  • Check prices twice daily. Prices change, sometimes only for a few hours. Now that you have your cruise booked, you need to check for price reductions and have them applied when available. Your travel expert can help with this.
  • Buy discounted fares whenever possible (duh) and use a travel expert who is consistently accessible either by phone or email to get those new rates applied to your booking. While yes, it’s true that singles usually pay double, some lines offer a discount on select sailings as an incentive to book.
  • Buy way far in advance. That’s always a good idea. You get the best selection of cabins and often the best price too. A possible bonus: If the price goes up for your cruise closer to sailing, consider the price difference if you were to buy now an early buy bonus. If you are really hung up on pricing, this can help ease your pain.
  • Consider bringing a friend. I know, that’s the easy answer but maybe its time to really seriously consider it. A relative, someone from the office, a neighbor, maybe someone you know who did something nice for someone else and deserves recognition.
  • Check in with Single Travel sources like Singles Travel International to learn about their world and what it can mean to you. The singles scene does not have to evoke thoughts of singles bars, lonely nights alone or other similarly depressing thoughts.
  • Look at it differently. Instead of “Oh no, I don’t have anyone to travel with!”, try “Yes! I am going all by myself and can do whatever I want to, without regard for others”. You don’t have to be concerned about who’s turn it is to use the shower, where you will put your stuff in the cabin and what shore excursions “you both” or “all of you” would like.

There is no one single tool or idea that will make the cruise world totally fair for solo travelers. But by taking another look at the whole process, from booking to sailing, and by being actively involved along with your travel expert, solo cruising can be a rich and rewarding experience.

If all that’s not enough, try these 10 Reasons To Travel Alone, hold your head up high and have the cruise of a lifetime.

Flickr photo by Lisa Sanderson


Bad cruise spawns web site, call for travel agents

Bad cruise web siteNorwegian Cruise Line passengers, really mad about a December cruise on the Norwegian Sun, have launched a new web site. It’s just one of a number of ways cruise passengers are going beyond checking “below expectations” on a cruise vacation survey to sound off.

The new site, MyBadCruise.com, is simple and the message is clear. It tells of mechanical problems that ruined a cruise, what you can do to help, asks for “your stories” and has a place to check back for updates. Here’s what they say it is all about:

“On December 4, 2010, a large group of travelers took off on one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL) 6-night luxury cruises out of Port Canaveral, FL – having paid for a vacation to the beautiful islands of St. Maarten and St. Thomas, among other stops. According to the NCL website, passengers were assured that the Norwegian Sun cruise ship would provide everything they need to have their “perfect cruise vacation.”

OK first thought: define “perfect”.

Sure, that’s an advertising line like “You’re free to do…whatever!” the widely-used Norwegian Cruise Line slogan, but the ship did break down. It was no fault of the passengers who did not receive what is accepted as the normal and customary cruise experience. This sailing was no where near “perfect”. The ship lost power in one engine, bypassing St Thomas and St Maarten, the two main ports of call on the voyage, then slowly sailed back to Florida on a modified itinerary.

The cruise line issued $100 onboard credit per cabin along with a future cruise credit equal to 30% of the price of the cruise. Passengers say that’s not enough and want a full refund.
Odds are they probably won’t all get a full refund. They did go on a cruise. The cruise line always has a right to modify itineraries (it’s in the passenger contract no one reads). As foreign-flagged ships, cruise lines are not governed by consumer protection laws in place for US businesses.

But that does not have to be the end of the story for these people. Those who booked using a travel agent probably have a better chance of receiving more than the cruise line is offering.

Douglas Ward, author of “Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2011,” told the Associated Press that you’re more likely to get help with a cruise problem if you booked through a travel agency and ask your agent to plead your case. “If you book your cruise online, it may be difficult to get compensation when things go wrong,” he added.

Indeed, a good Expert-Agent would have given potential cruise buyers options. Those options would include lines other than Norwegian, pointed out the difference in lines, itineraries and ships noting that Norwegian Sun is an older ship along with their personal experience with the line.

In other words, it’s pretty common knowledge in the travel agent community that Norwegian Sun is not exactly the crown jewel of the Norwegian fleet and clients frequently come back saying “I’ll never sail that line again” or “That was the worst cruise ever”. Any agent worth having would have suggested alternatives.

But it sure is cheap. $449 per person +tax will get you a ride on the November 5, 2011 sailing. Consumers are often blinded by low prices in a cruise world that is seeing prices on the rise.

Still, there is always some wiggle room in negotiations for a fair settlement when a cruise goes bad. A good Expert-Agent would have your back here.

Flickr photo by Suomi Star

River cruises, land tours canceled as evacuation from Egypt begins

egypt evacuationWhile at least 2,400 U.S. citizens are seeking evacuation from Egypt today, only two charter planes arranged by the U.S. Department of State have taken left the scene , one landing in Cyprus and the other on the way to Athens, Greece. It looks like it is going to take some time to make those evacuation plans happen.

“People should be prepared for a very long wait,” Janice Jacobs, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for consular affairs told CNN.

With an estimated 52,000 Americans in Egypt, 2,400 have requested assistance evacuating. The US Department of State has issued a warning against traveling to Egypt and noted that those interested in evacuation People interested in evacuation via U.S. government-chartered transportation should contact the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Cairo by sending an e-mail to EgyptEmergencyUSC@state.gov or by calling 1-202-501-4444.

Egypt land tours and Nile river cruises have been suspended with tour operators Abercrombie and Kent, Trafalgar tours, Uniworld, Avalon Waterways, Grand Circle Travel and Gate 1 Travel all canceling operations.

“It’s an absolute zoo, what a mess,” Justine Khanzadian, 23, a graduate student from the American University of Cairo told AOL Travel.

MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines, both scheduled to call at Alexandria, Egypt have modified their itineraries. The Norwegian Jade called at Istanbul Sunday. MSC Magnifica called at Limassol, Cyprus on Sunday and is calling at Haifa, Israel today. MSC Splendida will call at Izmir, Turkey.

Some of the popular tourist attractions in Alexandria, Egypt include Pompeii’s Pillar, The Tombs of Al-Anfushi, The Graeco-Roman Museum and The Museum of Fine Arts, known for its rich collection of sculptures, paintings and architectural works.

Flickr photo by Deanster 1983

Cruise Line Price Guarantees: nice but a little bit sneaky

cruise line price guaranteeCruise line pricing has always been front and center when making a buying decision. With many variables to figure into the equation, finding a price point you can live with is often difficult to determine. “Is NOW the time to book?” we often ask ourselves. One factor to consider is what happens with pricing after booking. Prices go up and down all the time in a comoddity-like fashion sometimes. A price guarantee to stabilize that aspect of the process is a good thing being offered by some lines now. Just the notion of a “price guarantee” sounds like something we would want to have as consumers. But some are better than others and how they all go about it is a little bit sneaky.

Carnival Cruise Line was the first to do it, a guarantee that once booked, guests would be given 110% of the difference in price in onboard credit should they find a lower price within 48 hours. Aptly titled their 110% Best Price Guarantee, the line even provides an easy online form to make a claim.

Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Internationals price guarantee programs are similar with the same 110% on-board credit offer. Those lines also gives guests the ability to have the booking repriced at the lower rate too.

This is good to know if booking late, within what cruise lines call the “penalty period”; usually within 90 days of sailing. But booking outside of that 90 day penalty period, say 6 months in advance for example, guests are in a different situation.

In that case, price guarantees lose a bit of their bite as booked guests can cancel and rebook at the lower price without penalty anyway. That’s significant because up until recently, cruise lines commonly honored lower pricing and simply applied it to existing bookings if they were asked to. It wasn’t automatic, you or your travel agent had be looking for a lower price then call to make it happen.

The idea was that the cruise lines were grateful to those who booked well in advance and held them in high regard.

Cruise lines live to sail full ships, that’s universal among all lines, and traditionally honored guests who booked well in advance. They were not about to turn their back on those who booked way ahead by granting those booking at the last minute a lower fare and not honoring it on an existing booking, should it be asked for.

Now here’s the sneaky part.

In the past, a quick call to the cruise line, any cruise line, got that new lower pricing applied to an existing booking before final payment. If that lower price came along after final payment, either a refund issued or on-board credit added for the difference. Special sales or promotions like Royal Caribbean’s weekly Sales Event never qualified and there were a few other exceptions with minor variances from line to line. But for the most part, guests who booked far in advance could count on the cruise line to stand by them and do the right thing.

Not so much any more.

Now, say I book a fare 6 months in advance, pay on time and the price goes down after final payment has been made. On Royal Caribbean or Norwegian, I’m out of luck. That guy who waited until the last minute got a lower price and there is nothing I can do about it. I’m not feeling quite as valued now. Carnival runs about the same way too.

At least Carnival gave me an option, and it was a better option that I ever had before, when they invented the Early Saver Fare. This one is guaranteed by Carnival to be the lowest price, no matter what, no matter when, up to two days before sailing or they give on-board credit (like cash on the ship) for the difference. They’ll add that on as often and for as much as I can find when I compare my fare to any other fare they advertise.

It’s not without cost though, the Early Saver Fare has absolute restrictions they don’t waver on. A Non-refundable deposit is required and no changes can be made to the booking once deposited are the two biggies that scare wishy-washy people off. It shouldn’t. The gains way outweigh the possible losses. Like they say “Non-refundable” on the deposit but that’s not totally accurate. If you have to cancel, you can pay a $50 per person administrative fee and carry that deposit forward to another booking to be used within a year. Its not a total loss. No Changes is pretty much what they say. They might let you change a letter or two in the spelling of a name but otherwise that $50 per change administrative fee is charged.

Still, the Early Saver Fare is a good way to go if you are for sure going on your cruise no matter what and odds are your plans will not change. The trick is finding a Travel Expert who will watch pricing for you and snag those lower prices when they come along.

Most people don’t really think about the price over the life of the booking. They should. Prices change.

Janet Jackson as entertainment on a cruise ship?

entertainment on cruiseKinda.

On new Norwegian Epic, the popular Legends in Concert tribute show has changed some of the acts.

New to the ship will be Janet Jackson, Neil Diamond and Aretha Franklin impersonators doing six 45-minute shows over during a seven-day cruise.

Las Vegas’ famed standard of live tribute shows has rounded up the largest collection of live tribute artists and celebrity look-alikes in the world for over 25 years. At Sea, the performers are rotated every four months on Norwegian Epic, the latest ship from Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Among other entertainment options on a Norwegian Epic cruise including a Cirque Dreams and Dinner dining experience and a performance by The Blue Man Group, Legends in Concert has proved to be a popular option.

“The Legends in Concert show in the Epic Theater and Legends Unplugged (stars say naughty things) in the Manhattan Room are a favorite of our guests,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO and recent star of TV reality show Undercover Boss who recently impersonated crew members on the ship.

Replacing Britney Spears, Rod Stewart and Michael Jackson, the new performers will also do the Legends Unplugged show on three other nights in the ship’s supper club.

Replacing Kevin Sheehan on Undercover Boss will be Ronald Croatti, President and CEO of UniFirst, one of the nation’s largest producers of work-wear and uniforms.

Flickr photo by chvad_sb