No Risk Cruise Booking

A common facet of the travel industry involves reserving an airplane ticket, a hotel, a rental car without it costing you anything if you cancel. Here are some typical practices:

(a) For decades airline companies have had “refundable fares.” But those fares are commonly twice or three times as much as the lowest published airfares that are non-refundable.

(b) Hotels and resorts typically offer two prices for a room – a prepaid charge where you lose your money if you cancel, and a considerably higher cost where you can cancel up to one or two days before your booking date without paying anything.

(c) Car rentals require no money in advance. And if you don’t show up to get the car at the appointed time, it costs you nothing.

(d) Cruises are a bit tricky. Some lines allow you to reserve a stateroom with a deposit which is completely refundable if you cancel up to 75-days before the sailing date. Others require deposits which you forfeit if you cancel. And some will let you book with a refundable deposit except when they are having a special sale, in which case the deposit is not refundable.

Picture of Cruise Ship

NO REFUND: It’s interesting that Cruise Critic, an online travel site, recently gave the award for “Best Value-for-Money” for the second year in a row to Carnival Cruise Line. If you are booking one of Carnival’s lower priced staterooms, they won’t let you reserve your cruise with a refundable deposit. However, they offer higher rates in all types of cabins that will have a refundable deposit. In other words, a refundable deposit will cost you! Hmmmm. Shouldn’t that be part of a “value-for-money” equation?

Other lines will refund your deposit up to 75-days before your sailing unless your reservation was made in conjunction with a special promotion involving highly discounted fares.

DEPOSITS VARY: Most of the cruise lines ask for a $250 per passenger deposit in order to reserve a stateroom. Princess Cruises requires a 20-percent deposit. Usually, the full cost of the cruise is due at the same time the deposit becomes non-refundable. Also, sometimes cruise lines have a sale offering a half price deposit – some are refundable, some not. Of course, a good travel agent knows all of the variables – amount of deposit, is it refundable, etc. – and will call you before full payment must be paid.

USE A TRAVEL AGENT: A real, live, experienced travel agent you can talk to will know all of the details involving required deposits. Emphasis here is on “real” and “live” and “experienced” as oposed to websites or big-box stores selling cruises. Travel quite often involves the unexpected, and you need to have an actual person you can reach in case of problems. And it goes without saying, that person should know the ins and outs of travel and be experienced in resolving travel problems. Besides, it won’t cost you anything – the cruise line will pay the agent’s commission.

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The Best Cruise Lines

Ever wonder which cruise line is best? Each cruise line has certain things that they do best. Cruise Critic has unveiled its editors’ picks for the best cruise line in certain categories. Whether you’re looking for ocean or river cruises from family to adventure, you’ll see which cruise lines are doing best in this year’s Cruise Critic Awards. Click here to see results.

Jamaicacruise1

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What is a Repo Cruise

A “Repo Cruise” involves the repositioning (not reposession) of a cruise ship.  Let’s say it’s been cruising all summer long in Alaska, and now that the season is over, the company owning the vessel wants to send it to the Caribbean for the fall, winter and early spring.  Well, they don’t want to lose money repositioning the ship, so they fill it with passengers who would enjoy sailing down the west coast of North America to San Francisco or Los Angeles, then package another trip down the Mexican Riviera and through the Panama Canal to its next home base in Houston, New Orleans or one of the Florida ports.  There are several advantages to a repo cruise:

A.  It means a non-typical itinerary with less often included ports of call;

B.  It, more often than not, costs less per day than a routine routing;

C.  They usually occur during moderate climate conditions – spring or fall;

D.  Many of them are of shorter duration, so you might not need a lot of time off from work.

So, what are some upcoming super values among the repo cruises?

#1.  This September three cruise lines are offering three different three-day cruises from Vancouver, B.C. to San Francisco.  Norwegian Cruise Line ($149 for an inside cabin) and Holland America Line ($229 inside) both offer balcony cabins starting at $349 with a stop in Astoria, Oregon along the way.  Princess Cruises (inside $199) with balconies beginning for a mere $299 has a stop in Victoria, B.C.

#2.  MSC Cruise Line has an exclusive offer with Columbus Travel for an October transatlantic itinerary for 18-days from Genoa, Italy or 17-days from Barcelona to Miami with ports of call in Malaga, Spain, Funchal, Portugal, Barbados, Martinique, St. Maarten, St. Thomas and San Juan, and inside cabins start at $749 (about half what can be purchased from the cruise line directly).  Just remember, this price is only available at Columbus Travel.

#3.  The brand new Regal Princess is repositioning for 10-days from New York to Fort Lauderdale in October with stops in St. Thomas, Antigua and Aruba, and inside cabins start at $799, balconies $1029.

#4.  The Disney Wonder is doing a transcanal cruise this October from San Diego all the way through the Panama Canal, with stops in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Cartagena and Cozumel on the way to Galveston.  Disney doesn’t ever come cheap, but this 14-day sailing starts at only $1400 for an inside cabin.

#5.  Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Pride of America will have been in dry dock in San Francisco and will be going back to Hawaii next March.  This repo sales for twelve-days and includes stops in Maui, Hilo, Kona and 2-days in Kauai.  Inside cabins from $999, balconies from $1599.  Compare this with the regular seven-day itinerary round trip from Honolulu on March 26 with inside cabins beginning at $1749.

And, of course, there are lots more – especially every spring and fall.  For details call Columbus Travel at 800-373-3328.

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Cruising Concerns

In spite of the rapid growth in the popularity of going on a cruise, many have concerns about taking such a vacation.  And I want to address and perhaps allay any such worries.

First – Fear of getting seasick.  This is hardly ever a problem on a river cruise, but even on an ocean cruise, and only with a small percentage of people, one that can be solved by visiting your doctor before you leave on vacation.  He or she can give you a prescription for Scopolamine Transdermal Patch.  Before you set sail, you simply apply this little patch to your neck, behind your ear, and it will be very effective if you have difficulty in stormy seas.

Second – Bad weather, and usually in the Caribbean.  “What if there’s a hurricane?”  The interesting thing about hurricanes is that they are almost always confined to a specific local area.  A couple of hundred miles away and the sun is shining and people are basking by the pool.  The general direction a hurricane is going is always forecast, and the cruise lines have hundreds of employees working on alternate destinations with alternate shore excursions.  Ships never sail into a hurricane.

Third – Engine failure on the ship.  That’s a problem that seldom finds a place to happen.  Such a situation has occured only a few times in the last 25 years, and, at most, has inconvenienced passengers for a few days.  Let’s face it, inconveniences can happen anywhere for lots of different reasons.  I personally have had all of my engine problems with our various automobiles on driving trips.

Fouth – The captain runs the ship aground.  Well, the village idiot who performed that exercise a few years back is now in prison where he belongs.  In reality, vastly more people have had serious injuries and fatalities, again, while driving the family car on vacation.

Fifth – Mass sickness aboard the cruise ship.  Again, this has happened at conventions, hotels, schools, workplaces, anywhere people congregate; however, the cruising industry has employed far more precautions than any of thesoe other places.

Sixth – Nothing to do on a ship other than play shuffleboard or gamble in the casino.  The fact is this:  cruise ships have become destinations unto themselves.  Instead of just shipboard pools and whirlpool tubs, many ocean liners have water parks.  Some have climbing walls, simulated surfing, ziplines, bowling alleys, and more.  They have running tracks and workout facilities.  There are daily seminars, classes, movies, lectures, etc.  They all have a variety of spa treatments available.  And, of course, when in port, you’ll find scores of shore excursions for sightseeing, shopping, snorkeling and all kinds of other activities that are available.

The neat thing about all of this is that your only planning will involve choosing what to do.

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ALASKA IS HOT
One of the hotest selling vacations right now is an Alaska cruise.  The season is short – last week of April through September – and so, in spite of the fact that almost every cruise line sails Alaska, choice cabins are going fast.  Amazingly, prices today are lower than they have ever been.
Note:  You will find the lowest prices before June and after August.
 
Here are the three primary types of Alaska cruises: .
#1, Round trip Seattle, often referred to as an “inside passage” cruise, starts and ends in Seattle, lasts seven days, sometimes includes a stop in Victoria, Canada (home of the world famous Butchart Gardens), and usually includes ports of call in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, and also sails by either Glacier Bay and/or Hubbard Glacier.  Round trip airfares to Seattle are usually considerably lower than those to Vancouver, B.C., where you would either start or end most other Alaska cruises.  On the other hand, Vancouver is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in North America.
#2, Northbound or Southbound cruises are also for seven days, and start in either Whittier or Seward and end in Vancouver, B.C., or go Vancouver to Seward or Whitier.  These cruises are almost always the least expensive; however, you would have a more expensive airfare involving flights to or from Anchorage (plus shuttle to or from Seward or Whittier) as well as to or from Vancouver (or Seattle with shuttle to or from B.C.).  In this type of cruise the itinerary would perhaps include College Fjord instead of Glacier Bay or Hubbard Glacier, but other ports of call would be the same as those on a round trip Seattle cruise.  Flight and shuttle expenses would probably be at least as much if not more than the differrence in the cruise cost.
#3, A Cruise Tour, includes a seven day north-south or south-north cruise plus a two to five day land tour which would take you through Denali National Park and Mount McKinley, as well as perhaps Fairbanks and/or Keenai.  The tour portion of this vacation would come before a north to south cruise or after a south to north one.  Touring would involve a combination of motor coaches and trains with domed cars so you would be able to capture the complete majesty of magnificent Alaska  You would again need what is called an “open jaw” airfare, where you fly into one city and out of another – Vancouver, B.C. and either Fairbanks or Anchorage.
For an Alaska cruise you will want to pay a little extra for a stateroom with either a picture window or a balcony, and these are the cabins that are already filling up.  You can check availability using the cruise search engine on the home page of this website (columbusvacations.com) or by calling one of the cruise specialists at Columbus Travel:  800-373-3328.
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CRUISE LINES GONE CRAZY
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line says in spite of the fact that they are booking more cruise passengers than ever, they are actually making less money this year than a year ago.  Why?  Because there are so many competitors offering so many discounts and perks, they have had to offer huge specials of their own in order to fill up their ships.
WHAT DOES IT MEANIt means it’s a shoppers paradise right now!  It means, without exaggeration, that taking a cruise vacation will get you more and cost you less than ever in the history of all vacations.
WHAT ARE THEY OFFERINGLet’s take them one by one:
Norwegian Cruise Line calls it “Freestyle Choice:” – Book a cruise to the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, Alaska in an oceanview or higher cabin (anything but inside) and choose one of three offers, or book a Europe cruise in an oceanview or higher cabin and choose two offers:  1, up to a $200 on board credit; 2, a free beverage package; 3, a free dinning package in their specialty restaurants.  On a seven day cruise, that dinning package would amount to about $350.
Princess Cruises – It’s the 50th Anniversary of The Love Boat and they are offering up to a $500 per person savings, depending on the initial price of the stateroom; free specialty dining for 2; as well as up to a $200 onboard credit (money that can be spent for anything your cruise ship is selling, including shore excursions, but not for the casino), and, of course, the actual amount depends on the price of the stateroom.
Celebrity Cruises is having what they call a “1 2 3 Go” promotion – oceanview or higher bookings get one or more bonuses including a beverage package (up to $88 per day, including beer, wine and cocktails, as well as specialty drinks), prepaid gratuities, onboard credit up to $300, plus free Internet for third and fourth passengers.
Royal Caribbean (RCCL)has extended their “Vow to Wow” sale (originally set to end on January 31st) – book a cruise for two and the second guest goes for half off.  Plus, get up to a $200 onboard credit to spend any way you’d like and a 50-percent reduced deposit to hold your booking.
More than ever, cruises offer so much at very affordable prices:  a floating hotel room, fine dining, plus nightly entertainment, as well as other onboard fun, and exotic ports of call, all at fabulously low prices.  It’s certainly a way you can enjoy luxury at a very reasonable cost.
A great way to check out your own cruise possibilities is by using the Columbus Travel cruise search engine on the home page of this website (columbusvacations.com).  Choose the destination you want, then the cruise line, if you have a favorite, the time of year, and finally the length of cruise.  Then click the “GO” tab and every cruise fitting your criteria will appear for your browsing enjoyment.  When I find one I like, I call a Columbus Travel agent, and discuss it.  I’m given some tips and suggestions to enhance my choice, and then I book it (after, of course, getting final approval from my better half).  I only act after getting the “okay” from the boss.
Note:  All of the above promotions are set to expire at the end of February, 2015.

 

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THREE WAYS TO GET A SHORE EXCURSION

Shore excursions have become a major travel commodity over the last fifteen years.  Most cruises themselves, due to furious competition, have become so low in cost, the cruise companies have had to turn to other ways of making money, and these various trips at ports-of-call have become one of the major ways for them to stay solvent.  But, of course, this has resulted in additional competition for them.

There are basically three ways to get a shore excursion:

1. FROM THE CRUISE SHIP

This is definitely the most expensive option, but it is also often the most reliable.  Shore excursions purchased from the cruise ship will usually be marked up anywhere from 33 to 50-percent by the cruise line – that will be their share of your money.  However, if there is a sight-seeing or adventure on which you have your heart set (like:  “This is why I’m going on this cruise!”), you really should purchase it from the ship.  They will have contracted with this provider many times, so you can be reasonably confident about what you are getting.  This provider will also want to make sure you have an enjoyable excursion in order to insure that the cruise company will keep using them.  Plus, you can be sure, no matter what happens, the ship will not leave port until your shore excursion has returned.

2. WHEN YOU DISEMBARK

When your ship is docked at a port of call and after people who have purchased shore excursions onboard have been escorted off the ship, everyone else will be allowed to disembark.  Usually, there are people near the dock vying for dollars, who will escort you on a trip.  Sometimes, they might be the same providers who are guiding groups who purchased the excursion from the cruise ship.  This is almost always the least expensive way to go on a guided or escorted shore excursion.  I’ve done this, and it’s always worked out to be okay . . . for me; but, you have no guarantee; and if the car, van or bus breaks down, you definitely have no guarantee that the ship will wait for you to get back.

3. FROM OTHER PROVIDERS

Since shore excursions have become such a big deal, as you can imagine, providing them has become competitive.  There are non-cruise line-related companies that have arisen to provide shore excursions.  Companies such as shoretrips.com, shoreexcursiongroup.com or cruisingexcursions.com, etc. (you can find them through an internet search engine).  Larger travel agencies like Columbus Travel have started offering to find shore excursions for clients who are interested in saving some money – they virtually always cost less than purchasing them from the cruise line.  The agents have developed a history of reliability with these shore trip providers, so you will have more assurance of reliability.  The big advantage to these “other providers” is that you will probably save some money.

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River or Ocean Cruising Which is Best?

Not long ago a client who had taken 19 ocean cruises was in our office to report his first experience on a river cruise. He loved the river cruise so much that he stated he was never going on an ocean cruise again! River cruising is one of the hottest trends in travel today and our client makes a good point. However I would offer some qualifications. Here are important comparisons between river and ocean cruising.

Price and Value
You won’t find a river cruise for $499 like you might for an ocean cruise. However, river cruises provide excellent value when measured against the price of a similar travel experience on land to the same destination. Add the total cost of sightseeing, transportation, meals and entertainment on a 7-day land tour in a four-star hotel or better with the cost of a river cruise and the river cruise will win every time.

Connection and Convenience
Because river cruise boats are much smaller (80 to 180 passengers) than ocean cruise liners ( 2,500 to 6,000 passengers) , river cruising offers a feeling of connection to destinatins that ocean cruises cannot offer. You unpack and pack once and enjoy the local cities and sights along the way. On land tours to similar places you would pack and unpack almost every day.

Onboard is different
River cruise ships do not have lavish entertainment but rather cabaret entertainment or entertainment provided by local folk lore entertainers. The food on river cruises is good, but don’t expect upscale fine dining restaurants that ocean liners have. Many, but not all, river cruises include shore excursions as part of the cruise fare. Cabins most ocean liners are small, and cabins on river cruises are even smaller.

Shopping for a cruise
There are several river cruise companies. They all offer excellent but slightly different experiences. Viking River Cruises is perhaps the best known river cruise company in the U.S. They have done an excellent job of marketing and they have an excellent product. However there are several other river cruise companies offering outstanding products as well. It is always a good idea to comparison shop.

Major river cruise companies are:

• AMA Waterways
• Avalon Waterways
• Uniworld River Cruises
• Viking River Cruises
• Croisi Europe

Croisi

Personalities
Travel preferences among different nationalities vary widely. Some cruise lines such as Viking River caters to clients from the U.S. and Great Britain. CroisEurope river cruise line is the largest cruise line in Europe. It is French owned and operated and the food is excellent. It caters to an international clientele so it offers a different feel and experience. CroisEurope has not penetrated the U.S. market and are currently offering some excellent rates.

Is river cruising better than ocean cruising? It depends on what you are looking for. It is a unique adventure and every traveler should consider a river cruise.

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Why Are There Amazing Cruise Deals?

There has never been a better time to purchase a cruise, especially a Caribbean cruise! Almost every cruise line has introduced new and incredible ships. The competition to build bigger, better and more innovative ships is at fever pitch. Cruise Lines have a ton of inventory and need to sell it at almost any cost.

Why are there deals in the Caribbean?  Cruise lines are building ships larger than ever.  These large ships can’t go through the Panama Canal and it’s costly to move them to new areas of the world.  If a large ship is home ported in Florida, it can’t move it to Alaska in the summer where the cruise line can get a much higher price.  They have to stay in the Caribbean where the demand is less. The opposite is also true.  When cruise lines move their ships from places like Alaska to the Caribbean for the winter this creates more inventory.  All the big ships are there in the winter months plus all the other ships.  Either way the Caribbean has low prices and beautiful ships to sail on.

And now is the time to upgrade your cruise experience!  Why not get more for your money and sail in a balcony or suite cabin.  New cruise ship designs incorporate more balcony cabins than ever before.  With all of this excess inventory in balcony cabins you can get a balcony cabin for what you could get some inside cabins for a few years ago.  Balcony cabins are the best way to cruise and are highly desirable.  Now is a great time to try a balcony cabin out.

Bottom line is it’s a great time to be a cruiser.  See the world and take a fabulous cruise!

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NORWAY IS COOL by Don Shafer

Norway is not just cool as in really great, but a super place to cool off after waking up in the morning and thinking you’ve died and gone to Phoenix, which is what everyone seems to be feeling in and around Utah.

My wife and I just got back from cruising around Norway on the Grand Princess (a cruise we booked through the leading Utah travel agency, namely, Columbus Travel) and one of the places we visited was Longyearbyen, a village on a very northern island at about 80-degrees latitude, which is way beyond the Arctic Circle.  The high temperature that day was a sunny 39 – not celsius, fahrenheit.  By the way, that sunny was for 24-hours.  Yes, at midnight, 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. (I kept getting up to check) the sun was hanging in the sky.  The sun never got lower than about what we experience at 6:30 p.m. this time of year.

We also stopped in Stavanger, Gravdal, Honningsvag, Tromso, Hellesylt/Gieranger and Bergen, where temperatures never got above 75 and were usually in the 60s.  For someone who doesn’t take the heat very well it was heaven.

Bergen is a city about the size of Salt Lake in a beautiful fjord bay.  When we got off the ship we road the funicular to a mountain overlooking the gorgeous city splashed in the valleys of the mountains surrounding the bay.  Positively breathtaking.

The day before, speaking of sights that take your breath away, we disembarked in the morning at a village named Hellesylt and were whisked by motorcoach up the mountains of the fjord and then back down in the evening for reembarkation in the town of Geiranger.  On top at midday, the ski lift was running and the snow was 12 feet deep.  Spectacular views everywhere up there, including a the sight from high above Geiranger that is included in about every arrangements of photos from the Norwegian fjords.

We had taken off on our 14-day cruise from Southampton, and getting there was an electrifying experience – one that had a happy ending due to employees of Delta Airlines.  I have to take my hat off to Delta, because just a couple of years ago I can recall many a radio show guest railing about how their service had fallen to new lows of indifference and rudeness.  Not so anymore!  Everyone was not only friendly, but helpful to the grandest extent.

When we left Salt Lake City on June 20, severe thunderstorms around New York City, where we had a change of planes, as well as a fire at the FAA center in New Jersey, caused a three-and-a-half-hour delay in take off.  They wouldn’t let them take off because they weren’t going to be able to land.  Needless to say, we not only missed our connection but one scheduled to leave two-hours after the one to which we were assigned.  We got to New York City four hours late, about six minutes before the last scheduled flight of the day to London’s Heathrow Airport was supposed to leave.  We got off the plane and the only Delta agents in this particular concourse were helping passengers board a flight to Puerto Rico, and they were inundated with problems.  JFK was a madhouse – I mean way further out of control than it’s normal madness.  Thousands of flights had been cancelled that day and everything that had arrived was late.  There were many thousands of passengers who didn’t want to be there running in every direction.

I shouted:  “We were told on the plane there would be someone here to help us and we need help!”  A Delta gate agent (Luis Hernandez) offered:  “I will try to help you.”  He spent 25-minutes on the phone getting us on that last flight of the night to London, which was being delayed.  Then he personally escorted us to the gate where we boarded a bus for a trip to another terminal.  We took off at 1:15 a.m. (six-hours-thirty-minutes after we had been originally scheduled to depart) and landed at 12:45 p.m. at Heathrow (five-hours-thirty-minutes after we were originally supposed to be there).

After getting our luggage, we were met by representatives of Princess Cruises and whisked, along with 15 other late arrivals from JFK, to the ship, which sailed within five minutes after we set foot onboard.

Whew!

But wait, there’s more!

We arrived back at Southampton at the very pier from whence the Titanic sailed just a little more than 100-years earlier.  Hmmmm.  If we had only known.

It was the day of the “Ladies Final” at Wimbledon.  The “Gentlemen’s Final” was the next day and tickets were going for five to seven thousand pounds.  “Self,” I said, “we could go on at least three or four more cruises with that much money.”  So we saw some live theatre whilst in London town, as well as a day at the British Museum.  The shows were fantastic:  “Sweeney Todd,” a Stephen Sondheim masterpiece, “The Lion King,” something my wife has been wanting to see for several years, and lots of fun, and “The War Horse,” a truly unique and wonderful production.

Oh, by the way, there are some seven-day cruises to lots of Scandinavian destinations this August – Royal Caribbean starting at $649, Holland America, $899 – if you want to cool off yourself.  There’s a 14-day Celebrity with introductory pricing for $1400 that goes to Iceland as well as many of the ports we visited in Norway.

We are still suffering from vacation and jetlag disorientation, but we are already discussing some possibilities with the money we saved by watching Andy Murray lose on a tely in a London pub whilst enjoying a dinner of fish and chips after a delightful afternoon of “The Lion King.”

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