Tag Archives: cruises

A Great and Extensive Cruise Review

I love, love, love cruises. My 20 plus cruises are always my favourites. But it’s not for everyone. You either love it or…not so much. If you’re the former, you can search for previous cruise stories over the years.

And here are two USA Today stories you’ll get lots of value from:

USA Today’s Cruise Lines, destinations, rankings, etc. https://travel.usnews.com/cruises/

And a great story on 31 insider secrets you should know to get the most value and enjoyment: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/2019/07/15/cruise-tips-secrets-and-hacks-cruise-lines-carnival-royal-caribbean/1738637001/

$10 Cell Plan,Free Cruise, Generic Drugs & Costco

Unlimited $10 cell phone plans: Yes, but it’s the U.S. – a great reminder of how badly we get ripped off here in Canada. But if you go to the U.S. a number of times a year, or if you’re there for the winter, you should know this. Taking your Canadian phone means a U.S. roaming plan that’s around $5 a day or $30 a month. That’s a lot more expensive than getting yourself a U.S. phone and a U.S. plan. The $10 is at unrealmobile.com and is for one GB of high speed data plus unlimited calls and texts. Just check what the rate is for calls to Canada. It runs on the Sprint network so you just need an unlocked phone and a $5 SIM card from Sprint or also AT&T.

Plan B, which is what I have, is a $3 plan from Ting. That’s a flat per month. When you use it in any month, it triggers $3 for 100 texts, and $6 for unlimited calls. It’s just for my three or four U.S. trips, but I’m also going to switch to unreal now. (For a review, go to Clark Howard’s website at clark.com – he’s the best U.S. consumer help guru that loved the service when he recently tested it.

A free cruise, but only if you’re a smoker. Yes, sounds kind of strange, but this one time, a bad habit can be rewarded. In September and October each year, a number of cruise lines offer seasonal Maritimes to New England cruises. The one I was on last year started in Quebec City with three stops in the Maritimes, then Maine, and ending in Boston. Other cruise lines follow a similar itinerary. Here’s the free part: A carton of cigarettes is around $140 here. Duty free on the ship, it’s about $40 Canadian. Since there’s a few stops in Canada before heading for the U.S., buy a few cartons, then get off in Halifax or St. John’s, walk two blocks to the post office, and mail them to yourself. Once you’ve docked in the U.S., you’re restricted to bring back one carton into Canada. While you’re still inside the country, AND have access to duty free, you’ve got that window of opportunity. Six or seven cartons will save you the price of your cruise.

Generic prescriptions are massively cheaper than the brand name drugs. Don’t think of generic meaning “not as good.” Generic if the financial word for “less expensive.” I needed three prescriptions filled after some dental surgery yesterday and asked the Costco pharmacy to make it generic. If it’s from a doctor, just ask him or her to put “generic OK” on the prescription when possible. I paid $31 total instead of $74 for the brand names (Tylenol 3 being one of them that I can pronounce). For someone with no insurance, that mattered to me. And do go to Costco. What 99% of people don’t know is that the law says pharmacies have to serve you. The law in every province and state is that you can go to Costco without a membership to get your prescription filled. You won’t regret the savings. If they won’t let you in, just as the door person to get you a manager, and remind them of the pharmacy exemption.

George Boelcke – Money Tools & Rules book – yourmoneybook.com

Greetings from Aruba!

Yes, this week I’m in the Caribbean enjoying 80 plus degrees, and heading for a partial Panama Canal crossing on the Norwegian Pearl. Typically, a full crossing is a cruise from LA to Florida, or the other way around. However, many cruise lines, including Norwegian, now do these partial crossings that start and end in Miami. They’re rather expensive, as they’re 11 day cruises, but well worth it for anyone who has always wanted to see the Panama Canal.

The Pearl is a mid-size ship with 1,200 cabins and 2,400 passengers. That’s what you want, instead of the massive 4,000 passenger ships that are becoming the norm with most cruise lines. On the other extreme, my best friend will only go on a cruise with lines such as Viking that have only a few hundred passengers – but there’s a big price to pay for that.

I do have to confess that it’s my sixth time on the Pear, as it’s still one of my favorite ships. But if you’ve never cruised before, you really want to get the expertise of a cruise specialist with a local travel agent. Different cruise lines, just like different ships, have a very different personality – and for extended cruises, that matters a lot. Many Norwegian cruises have an average passenger age in the 40s. This one, for example, is likely in the 60s due to the length, and non-spring break time of the trip.

The Pearl has also just undergone a two-week dry dock renovation. About half the upgrades were age related, and something you wouldn’t notice. (Could you tell that the original railings are teak, and the replaced ones are spruce?) The other half are quite nice and noticeable. All cabins had a make-over, the most common traffic areas have new carpets, and some of the (pay) specialty restaurants were given a make-over as well.

A couple of heads-up as you might as well learn the painful lessons of someone else (that would be me), instead of on your own:

Within two hours of being on board, it turns out six of my well planned out dinner reservations made two months ago had been wiped out, and were gone. One other had been moved by three days, and only one of eight was still showing. As some of the popular specialty restaurants fill up early, that would have destroyed my vacation in the first few hours. The only reason I was able to get most of them restored, with the help of an incredible hostess who spent an hour helping me, is that I had printed the confirmations and brought them with me. If not, it would have been my word against the ship’s computer, and there’s no chance I would have had them re-booked. Print and take everything! The ship’s hotel director chose not to respond to multiple requests for an explanation or what passengers should do – as I wasn’t the only one. Trust me, I’ve heard the horror stories from almost all cruise lines. And, as I always tell you: If it’s not in writing – it didn’t happen! That will always be true: Case in point that 8,300 of my casino reward point (which is a lot) also disappeared. But with no written proof, I’m out of luck so to speak.

The second heads up is even more valuable: We talk about it at least twice a year: Loyalty is dead. From credit card programs to Starbucks, airline frequent flyer programs to cruise lines. Norwegian Cruises has a pretty high loyalty level called “platinum” that applies at roughly a dozen cruises. This cruise, my traveling companion had also reached that level. But what you don’t know in advance is that none of the worthwhile “rewards” are passed on to the second person. Yes, I get a free load of laundry – he doesn’t. Yes, I get a complimentary dinner – he doesn’t. The value of reaching that loyalty level for the second traveler is $1.25. It’s their own bottle of water in the cabin for the week.

If you have a regular travel buddy, or travel with your partner, make sure you stay a free agent in not always booking with the same cruise line. They get the revenue, but you don’t get the rewards.

The “Value” Of Cruising

For almost two years I’ve wanted to take a cruise on the now second newest Norwegian ship, the Epic. This past week, I finally made it for a seven-day cruise out of Miami. Deal, or no deal, between the airfare, cruise cost, on-board charges and excursions, it’s still a large financial decision for most people, and something that first and second-timers should only do with the help of a qualified travel agent.

Booking a cruise is a minefield of traps, on-line discounts that we’ll probably never get, or limited time offers that just aren’t true. According to travel agents, and fellow Epic passengers, Lori and Mark Guerin (www.landandcruise.com), most people also have all kinds of incorrect information and dozens of misconceptions about cruises in general. Lori and Mark should know, having been on more than 100 cruises between them! You’re entrusting your entire holiday to a specific cruise line and cruise ship, each of which has a very different personality and you can’t change your mind once you’re on board.

The Epic is a two-year old ship designed by Norwegian specifically for freestyle cruising. That basically means that you can wear what you want, when you want and eat what you want (sort of) and where you want. Five restaurants are included in the price of the cruise, while nine upgraded specialty restaurants have a surcharge. Whether you choose to pay that is up to you. Two nights, my brother and I did step up for the extra expense, and the service and food were incredible at Cagney’s (steak house) and the French-style Le Bistro. The meals would have been well above $50 in a restaurant, compared with the extra $15 to $30 ship surcharge.

If you’re looking for a good deal on a cruise, your travel agent will find a lot of options with a lot of cruise lines for you. It’s a very competitive industry in a not-so-good economy, and an industry that keeps adding new capacity with newer and bigger ships. But when cruise prices drop, the pressure to increase the on-board revenues accelerates in tandem. From art auctions to bingo, watch sales, raffle tickets, and promoting 90 excursion packages ranging in price from $20 to $230, you will get pitched – hard and often. A general rule of thumb in the industry is that each ship has to generate the same amount of revenue as the cabin sales. That’ll include an average of $8 in liquor sales per passenger per day. Liquor isn’t included in your cruise, and drinks aren’t cheap.

One of my biggest regrets is not being able to see the total room charges for a vast number of passengers. With cruise lines, just like Disneyland, and chips instead of cash in casinos, the last thing cruise ships want is for their passengers to remember that they’re spending real money. No, it’s not that they don’t seize every opportunity to reach into your wallets – it’s just that the room key is your charge card for the entire week. Prices aren’t always easy to see (Free beer! Buy five and get the sixth free!), but when it’s simply a matter of showing your room card, for most people, that card quickly disconnects their brain from their wallet. It totally loses the correlation that showing a room key is actually spending real money. Nothing would have been better than to see the look on the faces of many passengers the morning of departure as they wondered where the %&#@ all those charges came from, which were now on their credit cards.

On next week’s program, we’ll talk about some of the good, the bad and the ugly.