Category Archives: Multigenerational Family Travel

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Chris Rakes is an experienced Sandals and Beaches Resorts Certified Specialist #travelplanner #allinclusiveexpert #couples #families #honeymoons #destination weddings #grouptravel #totalexperiencetravel Chris Rakes is an experienced Sandals and Beaches Resorts Certified Specialist #travelplanner #allinclusiveexpert #couples #families #honeymoons #destination weddings #grouptravel #totalexperiencetravel Chris Rakes is an experienced Sandals and Beaches Resorts Certified Specialist #travelplanner #allinclusiveexpert #couples #families #honeymoons #destination weddings #grouptravel #totalexperiencetravel Chris Rakes is an experienced Sandals and Beaches Resorts Certified Specialist #travelplanner #allinclusiveexpert #couples #families #honeymoons #destination weddings #grouptravel #totalexperiencetravel

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Chris Rakes – trained, experience and certified all-inclusive expert and Sandals/Beaches resorts specialist. 919.589.2437


Tips From Master Mixologist On #1 Luxury Cruise Line

Originally published by Crystal Cruises.

A Luxury Cruise May Not Be Out of Reach

Luxury cruises offer intimate comfortable settings
Luxury cruises offer intimate comfortable settings

A luxury cruise may not be as far out of reach as you think.  I would never say that luxury cruises are cheap, but when you factor in all of the money you spend on drinks, dining, and other onboard expenses, luxury cruises offer excellent value and not as expensive as you think.

If you’ve ever shopped around for a cruise, you probably stumbled across a few luxury cruises at some point only to immediately change pages after you saw that the fares were as high as $500+ per night, compared to $100-$300 on more popular mass market cruise lines (ex. Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian).

Obviously, you’re never going to sail on a luxury line for the price of an inside or oceanview cabin — I’m good at finding deals, but no one is that good. Still, when you compare the prices of similar accommodations (suites) on larger mainstream ships and add in all of the extra expenses premium and luxury lines include, you end up with a very surprising picture.

In the breakdown below, cruises from Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Oceania, and Regent are compared. All sailings are roundtrips from Miami.  Note: Cruise fares can vary widely (even on the same line), but this sample is representative of the offerings from their respective lines. Onboard expenses are approximated based on the spending habits of a typical cruiser.

Caribbean mass market vs luxury cruise comparison
Caribbean mass market vs luxury cruise comparison

Luxury cruise cost comparison Caribbean * Air pricing is from JFK airport. ** Roundtrip taxi from MIA to the cruise port. *** Based on 1 excursion per port per day @ $150. Oceania includes 4 excursions. **** Based on $35/night for 6 nights. ***** Celebrity offers $150 onboard credit, which we applied to the offset specialty dining cost.

Bet you didn’t see that coming, did you? For a comparable experience on Royal Caribbean, you’ll have to pay close to $50 more per night, and a whopping $400 more per night on Celebrity. While the base fares are somewhat comparable, the fact that premium and luxury lines include most (if not all) onboard expenses, airfare, and shore excursions makes them remarkably less expensive in the long run. Sure, some cruisers may be able to trim down the overall cost by purchasing cheaper shore excursions or not buying a WiFi or beverage package, but it’s not going to have a huge effect on the overall results.

To be thorough, a few Mediterranean cruises being offered by the same lines were also compared. All trips are sailings from Barcelona to Venice, except Royal Caribbean which is a roundtrip from Barcelona.

Mediterranean mass market vs luxury cruise comparison
Mediterranean mass market vs luxury cruise comparison

Luxury cruise cost comparison Caribbean * Air pricing is from JFK airport.  ** Based on 1 excursion per port per day @ $150. Oceania includes 4 excursions.  *** Based on $35/night for 6 nights.  **** Celebrity offers $150 onboard credit, which we applied to offset the specialty dining cost.

In this case, Regent is actually the cheapest line! With this in mind, it’s not a stretch to say that if you’re looking at the higher-end options for cabins, there’s a good chance it might be cheaper to sail on a luxury line.

Quality, service, unique experiences and a relaxing vacation
Quality, service, unique experiences and a relaxing vacation

To be fair, it’s worth noting that there is far more to do on your average mass market/mainstream ship (ex. Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian). When you factor the sheer variety of dining options and onboard activities, plus extensive child care programs and Broadway-caliber entertainment, it makes sense that you might have to pay more for similar accommodations. But if you’re looking to sail in a suite (or even a balcony in concierge class), have impeccable service, visit smaller ports, eat excellent food in a comfortable intimate setting, and you don’t need flashy stage shows or 30 different specialty restaurants, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be considering luxury and premium cruises.

Chris Rakes, River & Ocean Cruise Expert
Chris Rakes, River & Ocean Cruise Expert


Looking to plan your next cruise?  Ask me about luxury cruising and it’s all inclusive features – 919.589.2437 /

How to Pick the Best Cruise?

Which is the right cruise for you?
Which is the right cruise for you?

Choosing the right cruise can be cumbersome.  Commercials draw many in but, some lines don’t advertise at all.  Each line and ship has its own personality. Much will depend on your travel style and interests.  Work with a travel planner to help you decipher which is best for you and your family.  It’s free, it’s personal and they can objectively help you choose the cruise for you. To give you some things to think about before you contact your personal Travel Pro, below is a comparison for some different options.

Azamara Club Cruises

All Inclusive Cruise
All Inclusive Cruise

Size: Small
Cost: Moderate
Style: Couples, luxury
Activity Highlights: Cruises to locales in the Far East and South America feature lots of long 2- to 3-day stays so you get an in-depth look.
Food Highlights: No end-of-cruise surprises — fares include alcohol, as well as soft drinks and tips.  Considerations: Homogenous passenger profile means you’ll be cruising with an active but older crowd.

Carnival Cruise Line

8.14.16 3Size: Large
Cost: Low
Style: Party, couples, family
Activity Highlights: Some ships may quiet down before midnight, but nightlife on these vessels lasts into the morning. Drop-off kid programming starts at age 2 (most start at 3), allowing parents to take a night off.  Food Highlights: We love the 24-hour pizza and (on some ships) the Indian food in the buffet Lido deck restaurants and the new (complimentary) burgers by Food Network’s Guy Fieri.  Considerations: These ships are loud (décor-wise and in terms of volume) and lack learning opportunities.

Celebrity Cruises

8.14.16 4Size: Large
Cost: Moderate
Style: Couples, family, learning
Activity Highlights: Edgy offerings include art tours using iPad devices, Apple stores, and outdoor lawns (covered with real grass) for picnics. Spas are both large and well-designed.
Food Highlights: Chic bars serve molecular gastronomy cocktails.Specialty restaurants include creative Qsine, which serves sushi pops and has menus on iPad devices. Considerations: Lots of things cost extra, from the spa’s Thalassotherapy pool and steam room to Lawn Club cabanas and some classes.

Costa Cruises  

8.14.16 5Size: Medium, large
Cost: Low
Style: Couples, party, family
Activity Highlights: International passenger mix adds flavor to the cruise experience. Lively audience participation includes contests and costume parties, creating a fun atmosphere.
Food Highlights: A focus on Italian food the way real Italians like it: thin-crust pizza without excessive sauce and cheese, and pastas tossed in rich sauces.  Considerations: Announcements in multiple languages can get long and tedious.

Crystal Cruises

8.14.16 6Size: Medium
Cost: Moderate, expensive
Style: Couples, luxury, learning, family
Activity Highlights: Wraparound promenade deck for jogging and strolling, as well as tiered stern decks for quiet sunbathing and wake views, are rare features. Free classes range from languages to computer skills, and guest lectures fill sea days with celeb sightings and food for thought.
Food Highlights: Delicious food includes sushi in the Nobu Matsuhisa-helmed restaurant and homemade pastas in the Italian specialty spot. Wines, liquors, and soft drinks bundled with fares are convenient. Considerations: Service is great, food is impressive. If you have the money for these cruises, they’re a fabulous choice. (We’re still trying to come up with something negative to say…)

Cunard Line  

8.14.16 7Size: Large
Cost: Moderate
Style: Couples, learning, family
Activity Highlights: Great lectures, the biggest libraries at sea, and impressive art and memorabilia collections make the ships as much of a learning opportunity as the destinations. The drop-off nursery for babies is a surprising perk on ships otherwise popular with older cruisers.Food Highlights: Afternoon tea includes scones with proper clotted cream. The grand 2-story main dining rooms are the most elegant grand restaurants at sea. Considerations: Nightlife can be a real yawner; no one seems to stay up past 10 pm.

Disney Cruise Line

8.14.16 8Size: Large
Cost: Moderate, expensive
Style: Family
Activity Highlights: Amazing kids facilities and large cabins make traveling with the whole brood a breeze; high-quality stage productions blow us away. Calling in Castaway Cay, the line’s private isle, is like visiting a resort for the day. Food Highlights: Rotating dining program lets you take your waiters with you; Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy win over adult foodies with upscale French restaurant, Remy. Considerations: High rollers may miss not having a casino onboard. On sold-out cruises, the packed pool deck is a mob scene, with kids elbow to elbow in the water.

Holland America Line 

8.14.16 9Size: Medium
Cost: Low, moderate
Style: Couples, family, learning
Activity Highlights: Extras include free movies in a real theater, impressive cooking classes, and the best combination Internet café/onboard library at sea. Food Highlights: Look for free canapés in bars before dinner. Poolside lunch buffets (mussels and crab legs!) are impressive at this price point. Considerations: Sleepy nightlife means you might be hanging with the staff after dinner, since other guests go to bed early.

MSC Cruises  

8.14.16 mscSize: Medium, large
Cost: Low
Style: Couples, party, family
Activity Highlights: Low fares are sometimes shockingly low ($399 per person per week?). Kids under age 11 always sail free in the same cabin with parents. Med cruises are offered year-round, so you can visit in the less crowded off-season.
Food Highlights: Dining options include an Italian venue with a slow-food ethos, where you can sample locally sourced and produced food. Considerations: The international passenger mix means there isn’t always the community feeling you get on other lines, since people speak different languages.

Norwegian Cruise Line 

8.14.16 10Size: Large
Cost: Low
Style: Couples, party, family
Activity Highlights: Edgy entertainment includes improvisational comedy and family-friendly Blue Man Group shows. Nickelodeon characters (think Dora and Sponge Bob) delight little ones, while everyone else has a go at water slides and the trampoline. Studio cabins wow singles. Food Highlights: Open-seating specialty dining options number 10+ on most ships and include a Brazilian steakhouse and Chinese noodle bar, and Ocean Blue gets rave reviews on Norwegian Breakaway. Considerations: Standard cabins are among the smallest at sea.

Oceania Cruises  

Food, wine & pampering
Food, wine & pampering

Size: Small, medium
Cost: Expensive
Style: Couples, luxury
Activity Highlights: Standard outside and balcony cabins on the newest ships, Marina and Riviera, are super roomy. Design is elegant (picture boutique hotels rather than Las Vegas casinos). Cooking schools include plenty of do-it-yourself workstations. Food Highlights: Newer ships have a whopping 9 dining venues (unheard of for ships of their modest size). Seven are complimentary, and all have lots of tables for 2. Jacques Pepin’s restaurant is sure to impress. Soft drinks and water are included.
Considerations: Nightlife sometimes peters out before it even gets dark.

Princess Cruises

8.14.16 12Size: Large
Cost: Moderate
Style: Couples, family
Activity Highlights: Outdoor spaces include wraparound promenade decks (perfect for jogging) and an adult-only sunbathing area. Food Highlights: You’ll find excellent buffet spreads at breakfast, lunch and dinner; pizza made from scratch is offered by the slice poolside and in pies in (complimentary) Alfredo’s restaurant. Considerations: The tiered balcony design on half the fleet means you can peek on your neighbors below — so much for privacy.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises  

All Inclusive luxury w/ first class air
All Inclusive luxury w/ first class air

Size: Small
Cost: Expensive
Style: Couples, luxury, learning
Activity Highlights: All-inclusive fares set an industry standard, covering shore excursions, flights, airport transfers, and a free pre-cruise hotel night. Formal nights are optional, creating a more laid-back vibe. Even standard suites are large. Food Highlights: The 4 to 5 complimentary restaurants include a steakhouse and an Italian venue. All-inclusive alcohol includes a bar setup in your cabin. Considerations: Summer and holiday cruises can result in 100+ kids on small ships not built for them. The result during those times: packed pools.

Royal Caribbean International

8.14.16 14Size: Large
Cost: Low
Style: Couples, party, family
Activity Highlights: Climbing walls, ice skating rinks, and zip lines keep kids and grown-ups busy, and the new Quantum of the Seas will offer skydiving and bumper cars as well as the line’s first nursery for babies. Broadway productions include “Chicago,” “Saturday Night Fever,” and “Hairspray.” Food Highlights: Johnny Rockets diner is well worth the $4.95 cover charge — for the food and the relatively intimate surroundings. Considerations: Cabins are tight, especially on the older ships; food in main dining rooms can be underwhelming.

Seabourn Cruise Line

All Inclusive Luxury
All Inclusive Luxury

Size: Small
Cost: Expensive
Style: Couples, luxury, learning<
Activity Highlights: Optional formal nights mean you don’t have to wear a jacket and tie, and all-inclusive pricing means you don’t have to sign a check every time you have a drink. Food Highlights: Gourmet dining includes the impressive Restaurant 2, serving small plates over many courses. The fresh fruit smoothies and sherbet are refreshing and healthy.
Considerations: Passengers are wealthy, well traveled, and older.

SeaDream Yacht Club

8.14.16 16Size: Small
Cost: Expensive
Style: Couples, luxury
Activity Highlights: Adult toys range from mountain bikes to Wii consoles, keeping the vibe playful. The water sports platform offers easy access to kayaking, sailing, water scootering, and more. Pricing is all-inclusive, and service is over the top: 95 crew cater to 112 guests, an impressive ratio. Food Highlights: The Champagne and caviar beach parties are the elegant, adult version of a fun college party. Diverse menus in the 2 restaurants include Japanese, raw food, and pan-Asian dishes. Considerations: You won’t find one balcony, not even in penthouse suites.

Silversea Cruises

8.14.16 17Size: Small
Cost: Expensive
Style: Couples, luxury, learning
Activity Highlights: Lots of 7-night cruise options around the world, plus Galapagos cruises offered year-round, give luxury seekers choices. Walk-in closets, marble-clad bathrooms with separate shower and tub, Belgian pillow chocolates, and Pratesi linens are included in the (all-inclusive) pricing.
Food Highlights: Impressive cuisine includes a pan-Asian restaurant and an art deco-style supper club serving small plate dishes on Silver Spirit. Considerations: Older clientele, which tends to retire to bed early. Although this is the line hosting the U.S. Olympic basketball team and Coach K in Rio!

Windstar Cruises  

Barefoot luxury & casual
Barefoot luxury & casual

Size: Small
Cost: Moderate
Style: Couples, offbeat
Activity Highlights: The wonderfully casual atmosphere includes sail-away sunset barbecues on deck, a no-jackets-required dress code, and a lively water sports platform.
Food Highlights: Soft drinks and bottled water are included in fares, so you won’t feel nickeled and dimed.
Considerations: These yacht-style cruises are best for outdoorsy and casual types; others may miss some of the formalities.

Travel Planner and Honeymoon & Group Specialist
Chris Rakes – Travel Planner and Cruise Expert

You can look at brochures and websites and still not know how to tell the cruise lines apart.  Plan with a personal, professional travel planner and cruise expert. 919.589.2437 /

The First-Timer’s Guide to Cruising in Alaska

An article from the Huffington Post with some good information.

Alaska, majestic and beautiful
Alaska, majestic and beautiful

Alaska is sometimes thought of as America’s last frontier, with the state’s rugged mountains covering huge amounts of land, and much of it largely untouched by humans. It is also home to glaciers and wide waterways, referred to as passages, bordering the thick brush of the mountains. It is these waterways that enable cruising to be such an amazing way to see Alaska. An Alaskan cruise brings passengers alongside wildlife and glaciers with panoramic views visible from the decks of the ship.

Where Alaska cruises sail

Alaska cruise itineraries typically include the Inside Passage, a beautiful part of Alaska’s landscape that stretches along the southeast coast of Alaska. Along the way, the famous Hubbard Glacier is visible along with other glaciers and fjords. There’s also the chance to see a wide variety of wildlife.

If you’re interested in seeing more of the wilderness, many cruise lines offer cruise tours, which either start or end your cruise vacation with a land portion that takes you through the inland area of Alaska.

There are also many options for where to start your Alaska cruise. Leaving from Seattle to Vancouver means you’ll get to see parts of the Canada coast as you sail north; however, if it’s a seven-night cruise your itinerary may then include more days at sea and less time in port. Leaving out of Seward, Alaska, for a week long cruise usually includes ports of call most days. Multiple week cruises in Alaska offer a variety of options for where to sail out of and what ports to see, allowing you to see many components of the cruising world of Alaska.

When to cruise to Alaska

alaska2When it comes to the time of year to take a cruise in Alaska, you’re at the whim of Mother Nature. Due to the cold winters, cruises to Alaska are only available from the end of April through beginning of October.  Not only is this the safest time for the cruise ships to sail to avoid any ice that may form on the water passageways, it also is the time cruisers can most enjoy being on deck of the ship and exploring each port as the weather is much warmer than in the frigid winter months.

Even in summer, though, you’ll want to pack warm layers, such as sweaters and windbreakers. The nights in Alaska can get cold plus being on the water can result in chilly breezes. Also pack clothes you’re not afraid to get dirty. Many of the most popular shore excursions and activities to do while in port involve hiking, fishing and canoeing.

Popular ports of call

Which line is right for you?
Which line is right for you?

Some of the most popular towns and cities to visit in Alaska are ports of call many cruise itineraries stop at while cruising the state.

Juneau: Alaska’s capital city is a great port of call for cruisers who love animals. Take part in a whale watching tour during which you may see the impressive Humpback whale, plus other sea animals like seals and sea lions. The port of Juneau is also nearby the Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area, which is a protected area that lets brown bears live in their natural habitat and it is home to the largest percentage of brown bears in one area.

Anchorage: Anchorage is often the northern most port cruises visit. It is home to snowcapped mountains and glaciers, providing impressive scenery. Some of the most popular excursions in Anchorage include ice and snow. Take part in a flight over glaciers and even land on top of one. Or play with man’s best friend and race through the snow as huskies pull you on a dog-sledding adventure.

Ketchikan: Did you know Alaska has rainforests? It does and you can explore the rainforests via the port of Ketchikan on your Alaska cruise. Try ziplining over the rainforest canopy at an adventure park. You can also partake in a nature hike through the forest plus glide down a lake on a Native American style canoe as you learn about the history of Ketchikan and the Native American past of the area.

Skagway: Take part in the river life of Skagway by trying the historic pastime of panning for gold while learning about the history of the practice, or by going white-water rafting down the river for a more adventurous excursion.

Choosing a stateroom

Which cabin is best?
Which cabin is best?

When cruising Alaska, you can find good deals for inside and oceanview staterooms; however, if at all possible with your budget, splurge for a balcony stateroom. Though there are many public decks on board cruise ships sailing through Alaska, being able to have access to your own private balcony will make the trip more memorable. You’ll be able to wake up and go outside to see the scenery first thing in the morning while enjoying a cup of coffee you get delivered via room service, or enjoy a glass of wine on your balcony before dinner while you keep an eye out for whales and bald eagles.

When choosing a stateroom, it is also wise to pay attention to what side of the ship it’s on. If sailing from south to north, choose a stateroom on the starboard side of the ship in order to have good views of the mountains rolling by and the small seaside towns the ship will past. If sailing from north to south, choose the port side of the ship to see Alaska’s mainland scenery from on board.

Cruise lines that sail to Alaska

Which itinerary and time of year?
Which itinerary and time of year?

When sailing to Alaska, you have a variety of cruise lines to choose from and you can find the ideal cruise line for you and your traveling partners whether you’re looking for a family friendly cruise, luxury vessel or expedition ship.

Many family friendly cruise lines sail to Alaska, offering an opportunity for parents to show their children Alaska while still ensuring they won’t be bored while on the ship during time at sea. Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line, Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line are all great cruise line options that offer activities on board to entertain both children and adults.

Those traveling with teenagers or as a couple may enjoy the premium cruise lines that offer a sophisticated ambiance on board while still offering a variety of entertainment options. Princess Cruises, Holland America and Celebrity Cruises offer excellent itineraries to Alaska that are ideal for this style cruising.

Luxury lovers will enjoy sailing on the Alaska itineraries offered by Silversea Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. When not in port, relax in your opulent stateroom and eat gourmet meals in the five-star restaurants onboard.

Looking for a bit more adventure on your luxury cruise? An expedition cruise is the way to go. Since an expedition ship is smaller it can fit into areas larger cruise ships can’t and get cruisers closer to the wildlife action and scenery. Though there isn’t as much entertainment onboard, you’ll get lots of it through the exploring you do via small boats many expedition cruises have to take passengers even further into the wild away from the cruise ship. Check out itineraries from Lindblad Expeditions.

Whichever cruise ship and itinerary you decide is right for you to cruise Alaska, remember to keep your camera with you at all times — you never know when you may just be passing by a deck and see a wild animal or perfect photo opportunity.

Is the all-inclusive experience for you?

All-inclusive resorts are designed for relaxation. From the moment you step off the plane, everything is taken care of. Need a drink? You got it. Want to play a round of golf? The staff will arrange it. Just want to enjoy the beach or pool? They’ll guide to you to cozy cabanas complete with drink and snack service. While all-inclusives may sound like a dream vacation, consider the following before you book.

Palm Trees and Tropical Breezes
Palm Trees and Tropical Breezes


  • You’re busy, and you want to relax, but don’t have the time to spend shopping around for hotels, airfare, or activities. All-inclusive resorts take the stress out of planning a vacation. Book your trip, and the resort handles the rest.
  • Often your flights, airport transportation and activities are included with your booking – making your arrival and departure as stress-free as possible.
  • Since you’ve paid up front, you’re less likely to stray from your budget. You won’t need extra money for tips and other typical vacation expenses.
  • Forget about cooking, grocery shopping, or figuring out where to eat; all your meals and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are
    Refreshing poolside and beach-side drinks
    Refreshing poolside and beach-side drinks

    included in your booking fee. Resorts typically offer a few different dining spots for travelers as well.

  • All-inclusive vacations are great for groups and couples alike. With adult-only and family-friendly options, you can choose as much alone or together time with your companions as you desire. Plus, many family-friendly resorts  have special clubs to keep kids occupied.


  • When you book an all-inclusive, you’re committing to staying on a resort, which can be claustrophobic for some travelers. If you are the type of traveler who likes spontaneity and experiencing local flavor, skip the all-inclusive option and plot out your own path.
  • Check with the resort to make sure the offerings work for you.

    Resorts vary in size
    Resorts vary in size
  • All-inclusive activities are available, but are limited and first come, first served. You may end up spending more money on things you want to do outside of the resort.
Chris Rakes - Cruise, Tour, All Inclusive Expert and Honeymoon & Group Travel Specialist.
Chris Rakes – Cruise, Tour, All Inclusive Expert and Honeymoon & Group Travel Specialist.

Whether you’re an all-inclusive traveler, or are looking to blaze your own trail, the vacation you want is waiting for you. Use a trusted Travel Pro to help you decipher best options and book your bucket-list experience, for the same price as booking direct.

Why Balconies are a Must on Cruises


Cruises are an exciting way to see the world. In between ports, there’s no shortage of shows, dining and pool time, so it doesn’t really matter what your room is like right? Wrong. While you don’t think you’ll spend much time in your room, you will need time to rest, recover and reenergize for the next day. And while most modern staterooms are extremely comfortable, having a balcony in your room is essential. Here’s why:

Greet the sun each morning. It’s nice to have your morning coffee in your bathrobe. It’s nicer to have your morning coffee in your bathrobe on your own private balcony in the middle of an expansive body of water. With your own private outdoor space, you can leisurely enjoy your morning routine, or evening routine, or just some peace and quiet.

Enjoy the scenery. Drink, dine, dance and rekindle your romance in your own personal outdoor space while taking in spectacular views of the open ocean.

Fresh air. A warm sea breeze cures what ails you, and you’ll have access to plenty of it in your balcony room. It’ll freshen your room and give you the chance to air out clothing, which could be wet from exciting excursions.

Water sounds are relaxing. The sounds of the lapping ocean water lull you to sleep each night, or you can enjoy an afternoon timeout to clear your mind.

Alleviate illness. If you experience sea sickness or claustrophobia, having a view of the horizon or a little outdoor space can be a life saver.

Work with a Cruise Expert and Trusted Travel Professional when planning your next river or sea adventure!

Personal & Group Travel Planner
Cruise, Tour & All Inclusive Resort Expert

919.589.2437 /

Today’s River Cruise Trends in Europe

More River Cruise Trends in Europe as reported by Cruise Critic’s Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief

In Europe, river cruising continues to experience an unprecedented boom. Besides the sheer increase in the number of boats on the waterways, the experience of a river cruise is changing, too, with more sophisticated amenities and smart new programs. We weigh in on what’s innovative and different.


Alfresco Dining

What’s changing: Just about every river line offers the occasional buffet meal on its sun deck, typically on a day of cruising. What’s exciting is that some lines are incorporating alfresco dining into new ship designs.

On Uniworld’s S.S. Antoinette, L’Orangerie is the industry’s first “pop up” restaurant; the captain can literally lower the ceiling and walls in order to pass under low bridges. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served there. On Viking River Cruises’ Longships vessels, the Aquavit Terrace features indoor/outdoor dining at all meals, including a casual alternative to main dining room dinners. Emerald Waterways’ (which goes by the name Evergreen Tours in Australia) new Emerald Sky has an outdoor grill on an outer deck.

Considerations: If dining outdoors is important to you, choose your ship carefully. Aside from the aforementioned special sun deck buffets, lines like AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, APT, Vantage, Tauck and Grand Circle have limited alfresco options (as does Uniworld on any ship other than S.S. Antoinette).

Immersive Shore Excursions

What’s Changing: One of the charms of river cruising is that most shore excursions are included in cruise fares. These typically involve city walking tours or motorcoach trips to major historic, natural or cultural sites. Increasingly, however, river lines are adding more unique opportunities to their tour menus. On a Uniworld Rhone River cruise, you can go truffle hunting. On Viking River’s Bordeaux itinerary, you can visit a cognac house where you’ll blend your own bottle, and AmaWaterways features hands-on cooking classes in restaurants.

Considerations: Typically these excursions are priced on an a la carte basis, anywhere from $100 to $200 apiece, so if you want something special, you’ll have to pay for it. There are two exceptions: Neither Tauck nor Scenic charges for tours.

European Interlopers

What’s Changing: Lines that you may never have heard of, such as Luftner’s Amadeus and CroisiEurope, are courting North American and British travelers. These companies, the former from Austria and the latter from France, have long carried some English-speaking passengers, but that’s because they market to travel groups (like alumni associations). This year, Luftner’s Amadeus has partnered with Amras, a Boston-based company, to market more proactively in North America. CroisiEurope is also making a strong effort to draw English-speaking travelers to its moderately-priced river line.

Considerations: The primary onboard language might not be English, and you could find you’re traveling with more Europeans than English-speakers. Also, while increasingly limited, smoking can be more widespread on lines that primarily cater to Europeans.



What’s Changing: Unlike oceans, rivers can be buggy, and sitting out on your verandah (or keeping French balcony windows wide open) can attract annoying insects. In a brilliant move, Uniworld’s S.S. Catherine is the first ship on the rivers to put a screen in place on all balconies. It’s optional; the push of a button opens the balcony’s window with the screen in place — or not.

Considerations: Screens are only on S.S. Catherine for now.

Semi-Standardized Ships

What’s Changing: The big trend over the past couple of years for river new-builds has been to replicate existing designs over and over again. On Avalon, AmaWaterways and Viking River in particular, if you’ve seen one newbuild, you’ve seen them all. Well, almost.

Some rivers are trickier than others, necessitating revised ship designs. Germany’s Elbe is particularly shallow, so ships require a different propulsion system (jets at the back that essentially push the vessels forward). This propulsion isn’t strong enough to power a ship of typical length, so the vessels must be smaller. Portugal’s Duoro poses a different challenge, as it’s narrower than most. So, for instance, when Viking River recently introduced its new Viking Torgil and Viking Hemming in Porto, it dubbed them the “baby Longships.” Accommodating just 106 passengers (instead of the normal Longship capacity of 190), there are plenty of consistent features, particularly in decor and ambience. Cabin layouts are nearly identical, as well. But, because these ships are shorter, the Aquavit Terrace concept is abbreviated (no food service outdoors), which is a shame, but these twins do each have a small swimming pool on their sun decks.

Considerations: While lines like Avalon, AmaWaterways and Viking River still are building most ships in nearly identical classes, do your homework on the line, ship and itinerary before you book a cabin.


France Grows in Appeal

What’s Changing: France’s trademark river cruise itineraries have long been on the Rhone, which visits Burgundy and Provence, and the Seine for Paris-based cruises that go to Normandy, Monet’s Giverny and Rouen. Bordeaux, on France’s western coast, is new this year for U.S.-based Uniworld and Viking River. (In 2015, Scenic and Avalon will offer it, too.) Next year, CroisiEurope will be the first river line to offer a Loire Valley river cruise.

Considerations: Operating on French rivers can be challenging for river lines. There are varying reasons. The Seine has an enormous number of locks and tidal issues as the river gets close to Honfleur and the Atlantic. On the Rhone, medieval bridges are extremely low, so sun deck time can be limited, and in Bordeaux, tidal issues and the construction of a TGV (fast train) bridge across a key waterway are causing cruise lines to retreat to Bordeaux and use buses to transport passengers to some attractions.

Cabins Get Bigger

What’s Changing: Avalon and Viking River are front runners when it comes to upping the size of accommodations. Avalon pioneered the “Suite Ships” concept. At 200 square feet, about 15 percent larger than standard river cabins, these staterooms (which technically aren’t true suites, as they’re just one room) have a very different design from that of most riverboats, with walls that are slightly angled to open them up. In addition, floor-length windows peel back to create balcony-like seating areas with tables large enough for dining. Marble bathrooms are especially spacious.

Going a step further, Viking reconfigured the layout of its cabins on its Longships so that two-room suites, with separate sleeping and living areas, are lined up one side, sideways. Luftner’s Amadeus, which launched a spate of standardized design newbuilds, is working on its next new vessel, due out in 2015. On that ship, the line will reduce capacity to increase cabin size.

In another cruise cabin innovation, Tauck has eliminated “aquarium class” by building multilevel rooms that give every passenger access to natural light and fresh air. The result is a space that feels airier and more pleasant than previous lower-deck cabins.

Furnishings also play a big role in making cabins seem larger. While cabins are generally the same size throughout AmaWaterways’ fleet, furnishings are more streamlined on newer vessels to make the rooms feel more spacious.

Considerations: On Viking’s Longships, standard balcony cabins actually were downsized to make room for more suites. Beyond suite accommodations, most river cruise cabins are still smaller than their oceangoing counterparts. If space matters, make sure you choose your stateroom carefully or upgrade to suite-level accommodations.

Come to TET’s River Cruise night on August 26th 6-8 pm to learn more!  And work with a trusted travel professional to assist you in planning your river cruise adventure!! /919.589.2437

5 Facts About River Cruising Today

To learn more Attend River Cruise Night on Aug 26th or Contact / 919589.2437


With more than 40 new river cruise ships launching in 2015, travelers have even more choice of onboard offerings, destinations and ships. To help holidaymakers learn more about this rapidly-expanding sector, Cruise Critic®, the world’s largest cruise reviews site and cruise community, breaks down some of the myths and misconceptions of river cruising.

“With so many new ships offering better facilities, exciting itineraries and excursions, river cruise lines are really improving the overall experience to appeal to a broader audience. This is a great time for anyone interested in this type of travel, and we want to help dispel some of the long-standing assumptions people have that may deter them from trying a river cruise,” explains Cruise Critic editor, Jamey Bergman.

  1. River cruising isn’t limited to Europe
    Brand-new itineraries in more far-flung and adventurous destinations, such as Burma and the Amazon, have expanded river cruising beyond Europe, and even within Europe the options continue to grow.

Many of the river cruise lines now have ships in Asia, such as AmaWaterways, Viking and Avalon. South America is an emerging river destination, and Lindblad Expeditions, for example, offers sailings aboard Delfin II enabling passengers to participate in kayaking, hikes and view the wildlife of the Amazon.

  1. You can explore the rivers in luxury
    Luxury is increasingly being incorporated within the river cruise experience – making it easier to pamper yourself. Luxury river cruise operators include Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Belmond. For the ultimate lavish experience, Sanctuary Retreats has some of the largest suites on the rivers, and top-tier cabins all offer butler service. Meals include local produce hand selected by the ship’s chefs, and guests can even opt for a private dining experience in the ship’s library.
  1. Bring the kids – river cruising is great for the whole family
    A river cruise may not provide the wealth of kids’ activities that many ocean cruises or family resorts do, but provides a more traditional holiday experience. Children can become immersed in new cultures and share memorable experiences with the whole family. AmaWaterways for example is improving the onboard experience to encourage a wider range of guests. New additions, on select ships, include heated pools with swim-up bars on the top deck, new spa areas and cabins with interconnecting doors, popular with groups and families. Following the recent launch of Emerald Sun and Emerald Dawn, Emerald Waterways’ portfolio now comprises four ships which all include a dual-purpose area that transforms from an indoor, heated pool with retractable roof during the day, to a cinema at night. Disney has also partnered to bring more families to river cruising.

For example, Tauck River Cruising offers all-inclusive river cruise packages tailored to families, which include cultural activities, such as dinner served in a castle and a visit to a French ranch. This week, Adventures by Disney, announced the launch of its first river cruising itineraries in a partnership with AmaWaterways. In 2016, Adventures by Disney will take families through Europe to experience cultural, immersive experiences, such as visiting scenes from the “The Sound of Music” in Salzburg and exploring Devin Castle in Bratislava. There are onboard activities catering for everyone, with wine tasting, music, dancing, and fine cuisine for adults. For children, offerings include movies and karaoke, while teens will also find events tailored to them. CroisiEurope is another family-friendly line, and has cruises during school holidays to Spain, Portugal, Italy and Croatia, with children aged 16 and under invited to travel free-of-charge on these sailings.

  1. A river cruise can offer excellent value
    River cruises are highly inclusive, making it easy to stay within a budget. River cruises include transport between destinations (via ship), daily onboard meals or packed lunches, some drinks (most include alcohol with lunch and dinner), and many incorporate tours and excursions. Do bear in mind, however, that while river cruise lines serve a good (and usually plentiful) three meals a day, many don’t include free snacks outside of meal times. When booking your cruise, if something initially seems pricey, do clarify exactly what is included within that price – you may be pleasantly surprised.
  1. River cruising is making changes to suit all ages
    Traditionally, a river cruise was all about the destination and scenery, with the entertainment simple, and activities fairly limited. However, this is changing as operators and agents target promotions to attract a wider market. While the itinerary remains important, cruise lines are adapting ships to provide an enhanced onboard experience, and appeal to younger cruisers.

To learn more Attend River Cruise Night on Aug 26th or Contact / 919589.2437

Is River Cruising for You?

out of the way destinations

I know river cruising is a HOT.  I’ve studied it, am a certified specialist by multiple river cruise lines, and have arranged trips for clients. But, when I set sail on my first river adventure, I still wondered whether it would be right for me.  I’m typically big on action and wasn’t sure the intimate laid back travel modality would suit my style.

After spending 2 weeks on the Rhine and Moselle, the bottom line is that it is impossible for anyone not to like this product because you can make it whatever you want it to be, simply by taking advantage (or not) of all that is available.  Quaint and charming historic towns, gourmet cuisine, local regional wines, art, architecture and history, very small staff passenger ratios, incredible scenery, engineering locks, knowledgeable tour guides and small groups, cultural adventures, opportunities to experience local nightlife in port, onboard local entertainment, good wifi, luxury staterooms with roomy bathrooms with lovely bath products; this is all while having to unpack only once and having everything seamlessly done for you! Topping it all off and making it even more desirable,  the numerous quality inclusions all for one price, make it an Excellent Value.

Upscale accommodationsImagine yourself staying at the Ritz or St Regis and floating from one destination to another while taking in the gorgeous hillsides and then getting to experience each destination as much or as little as you like.  If you have the chance, grab it with both hands and treat yourself!

For anyone interested in learning more about river cruising I will be holding a river cruise night on Wed. Aug 26th. Look for more details or contact me at or 919.589.2437