Tag Archives: Princess Cruises

Planning Around The Holidays

Experience a magical time of Christmas in Europe
Experience a magical time of Christmas in Europe

Hope everyone is in a festive spirit and getting ready for a wonderful holiday! In addition to shopping and trimming the tree, TET has been busy checking out a host of  resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean and learning what’s new out there for couples in love, families looking to spend quality time, destination weddings your guests will never forget, girlfriend getaways, bachelor groups and MORE! To see pictures from our latest trips visit Total Experience Travel’s Facebook page There are plenty of albums to get lost in, and more to come.  Look for Jamaica in January!

Know someone getting engaged? Recommend a trusted travel pro for their honeymoon or destination wedding!
Know someone getting engaged? Recommend a trusted travel pro for their honeymoon or destination wedding planning.

Did you know it’s not only the holidays but, it’s engagement season? More couples get engaged between Thanksgiving and Valentines day, than any other time of year.  Did you also know that more than 70% of couples choose an all-inclusive tropical honeymoon?  As a certified Honeymoon/Destination Wedding Specialist, I CAN tell you why!

 

Whether in the Caribbean or Mexico, there is an all inclusive resort for every style and budget. Ask me which is best for you
Whether in the Caribbean or Mexico, there is an all inclusive resort for every style and budget. Ask me which is best for you.

I will help YOU decide which resort and room is best,  be there for you from research thru return, add personal touches & perks –that only a live trusted agent can! Don’t listen to what those paid advertisements tell you, collaborate with someone you can trust. Pssst- it’s the same cost as doing it all yourself.

Christmastime is about the joy of giving. Give the best gift of all, the gift of travel!  It’s not to early to start planning for next Christmas and not too late to plan for that family Spring Break in 2017.  I have all kinds of wonderful recommendations; something to fit every style.

beaches-this-months-featured-resort-turks-caicos_05
A favorite for FAMILIES and GROUPS – old and young! Books up fast – don’t wait to contact me.

 

 

Ask me about my new favorite family resort.

 

 

New Year's Eve in the Caribbean!
New Year’s Eve in the Caribbean! Don’t wait – contact me today!

 

Or the hottest New Year’s Eve party in the Caribbean! There’s still limited space for 2016 and it’s NOT too early to plan for 2017!

 

 

Still not sure where to go next year – read my latest Travel Tips with info on Alaska, traveling abroad, ship nightlife, and Disney cruises for inspiration.  Then, contact me to start planning! I am specialized in All Inclusive Resorts, Ocean & River Cruises, and Guided Tours because these vacations offer best values and are the kind my family and I love to take!  What I haven’t done personally, my clients or peers have.  In addition to expertise, I’m independent so, can be objective when planning a vacation that’s just right for YOU!  It’s a No Brainer

Chris Rakes - Travel Planner & Honeymoon / Destination Wedding Specialist
Chris Rakes – Travel Planner & Honeymoon / Destination Wedding Specialist

When you are ready to plan, plan with Chris 919.589.2437 / info@totalexperiencetravel.com

Happy Holidays from Total Experience Travel!
Happy Holidays from Total Experience Travel!

 

 

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 / crakes@totalexperiencetravel.com

When Is the Best Time To Take A Cruise

Clients are always asking me when the best time is to take a cruise.  So, when I came upon Cruiseline’s article written by Simon Duvall, I thought I’d share it.  It will really depend on your priorities and preferences but, there are some general rules of thumb based on weather, price and destination.  Contact me for more input and to help you decide which cruise line and itinerary is best for you.

Cruisers enjoy Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman - Photo by Ruth Peterkin / Shutterstock
Cruisers enjoy Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman – Photo by Ruth Peterkin / Shutterstock

There is no one-size-fits-all answer for when to sail: It depends on your own personal priorities. Whether you’re looking to avoid the rough seas or score a bargain deal, there’s a time of year that’s best for you. If you’re looking for low prices, shoulder season — the time between peak and low season — is a great option, but it may come with trade-offs like rainy weather or fewer wildlife sightings. Check out our breakdown of the best time to cruise based on destination, weather, and price:

Alaska

Regent Seven Seas -Alaska's most luxurious ships
Regent Seven Seas -Alaska’s most luxurious ships

Best Price: Mid-May to early June and late August to mid-September. The trade-off: Cooler weather, less wildlife activity, and (in September) more rain.  Best Weather: For longer days, dry weather, and warm temperatures, the best time to cruise in Alaska is late June through mid-July.  We Recommend: Salmon run season (mid- to late July) is when the bears are most active. If you’re interested in whales, however, August is when you’re mostly likely to spot them.

Australia and New Zealand

Milford Sound, New Zealand - Photo by Rawpixel.com
Milford Sound, New Zealand

Best Price: November to mid-March, except for holidays.  Best Weather: December and January are warm and dry. Avoid cyclone season (early December and late May) in Australia; New Zealand is rarely impacted.  We Recommend: New Year’s Eve is the highlight of the year in Australia; cruise to New Zealand during reliably sunny December and January.

Bermuda

A white-sand beach on Bermuda - Photo by SIME / eStockPhoto
A white-sand beach on Bermuda

Best Price: March, April, and November.  Best Weather: Bermuda is often in the path of storms during hurricane season (early June through late November), with the biggest risk from August through October. May through July is usually ideal.  We Recommend: Cruise during Bermuda’s festival season (winter through early summer) for cultural events like the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts, which draws artists from around the world.

Canada and New England

Annisquam Lighthouse, Massachusetts - Photo by Christian Delbert
Annisquam Lighthouse, Massachusetts

Best Price: June through early September, as well as late October.  Best Weather: Temperatures are warmer in the summer months, and June, July, and September are driest.  We Recommend: Fall “leaf-peeping” season runs from the second or third week of September to mid-October.

Caribbean

Caribbean Photo by Sean Pavone
Caribbean Photo

Best Price: January, May, and September.  Best Weather: Hurricane season lasts from June through November, so winter is prime time. We Recommend: Winter is a no-brainer. (Plus, it’s colder up north and kids are in school, so ships are less crowded.)

Hawaii

Disney Wonder off the coast of Kauai - Photo by Disney Cruise Line
Disney Wonder off the coast of Kauai

Best Price: Between October and early December.  Best Weather: The rainy season runs from November through March, so the weather is best between April and October.  We Recommend: Since the prices are stable year-round, choose a sailing between April and October.

Mediterranean

Carnival Freedom in Venice - Photo by Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Freedom in Venice

Best Price: October through February, except for holidays.  Best Weather: The peak season is May through August; however, if you’re looking at small-ship cruises, beware of the Meltemi winds in the Aegean Sea. We Recommend: In summer, tourists overwhelm many ports. If you’re looking to avoid the flocks, consider early fall, when the weather is still warm but kids are back in school.

Mexican Riviera

Carnival Splendor sails way from Cabo - Photo by Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Splendor sails way from Cabo

Best Price: September and January. Best Weather: Summer is often uncomfortably hot along the Pacific Coast, so sail during late fall or winter. We Recommend: Score great deals by sailing here in winter, which is more likely to be cold back home.

Northern Europe

Seven Seas Voyager in the Norwegian fjords - Photo by Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Seven Seas Voyager in the Norwegian fjords – Photo by Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Best Price: The season is short (May through August), so there aren’t many bargains. Try to snag a deal on the first or last cruise of the season. Best Weather: Conditions during summer are perfect. We Recommend: If you want to avoid crowds, cruise in early May or late August.

Panama Canal

The Panama Canal - Photo by Heeb Photos / eStockPhoto
The Panama Canal

Best Price: April, September, and early January. Some lines offer longer repositioning cruises in May and September; if you can spare the time, these are the best per diem deals anywhere. Best Weather: December through February offers warm temperatures and the least rain. We Recommend: From December through February, the weather is best, shops stay open later, and street festivals abound.

South America

The Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro - Photo by Fuse / Thinkstock
The Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro

Best Price: November and late April to early May. Best Weather: December and January are typically most pleasant, but the farther south you travel from the equator, the more varied the climate. Seas are rough near Cape Horn and Antarctica, regardless of the month. We Recommend: December and January offer the best temperatures and the most wildlife. The Carnival of Brazil is the five days leading up to Ash Wednesday.

 

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.

Cruising the Panama Canal

Gorgeous homes and yachts galore can be found on the Intracoastal waterway
Gorgeous homes and yachts galore can be found on the Intracoastal waterway

The Panama Canal was on Steve’s bucket list and I had a training opportunity so, off we sailed from Ft. Lauderdale.  Adding a pre-stay in Ft. Lauderdale was a bonus.  Strolling Las Olas Boulevard after a quick beer and bite at Coconuts and sunset water taxi ride on the Intracoastal with its magnificent homes and yachts – is a great way to start vacation!

I chose Princess specifically for the Panama Canal itinerary. I’d choose them again for some other destinations, when not doing a luxury line.  Princess is considered a premium line along with the likes of Holland America and Celebrity. A Premium cruise line is a grade above mass market.  There are fewer crowds, service is slightly more attentive, food quality and variation is better and decor is more upscale. You will find wood decks, padded lounge chairs and teak outdoor furniture.  The demographic is older, a lot older on this particular itinerary.  We laughed more than once when we were referred to as the “young people” on board.

The Island Princess comes back through the Panama Canal
The Island Princess comes back through the Panama Canal

PROS

Aside from being referred to as the young people on-board…… We were glad we chose a suite, as the extra room, larger bathroom and big balcony are nice to have if you are cruising to relax and not planning on participating in too many on-board activities. We also knew we’d be working so wanted the extra space.  Not important to us, but extremely popular with our fellow passengers were the outdoor soft serve ice cream and pizza stations.  My favorite Princess feature was the first run nightly movies shown at Movies Under the Stars and in-cabin TVs.  Pillow padded chaise lounges, optional wool blankets and HOT, fresh, perfectly-salted, popcorn helped make the outdoor movies magical!  Our room steward Randell was friendly and always quick to make sure our needs were met. We saw a good late night comedian and the ship’s entertainment crew put on a great Motown show.  The 50 year sailabration party came equipped with 500 balloons, 180 bottles of champagne and a fantastic party band.  Princess did a great job with this event along with a very enjoyable welcome and disco parties.  Afternoon tea with white gloved service and small fresh sandwiches and pastries is lovely but, I suspect a dying tradition. Numerous hot tubs, the extra Splash pool, and shaded adult-only Lotus Spa pool added extra benefit.

Your semi-private deck area
Your semi-private deck area

CONS

Our balcony was a good size and had decent furniture but, next time I’d make sure to get a covered balcony as we don’t like direct sun. Communication with some wait staff was difficult; not as many crew members spoke fluent English as found on previous cruises. Internet was expensive and spotty. It was slow and reminiscent of dial-up days. If you have to be available for work, I don’t recommend this ship or itinerary.  Other than 2 good shows and a great party band, we felt the entertainment was mediocre.  That said, we met couples who raved about the entertainment – go figure.

Finding another cruise line adapting to the airlines’ nickel and dime-ing tactics was annoying.  We definitely prefer to pay the upfront all-inclusive pricing found on luxury lines and not deal with all the up-selling. The Sanctuary is a luxurious exclusive deck area with AstroTurf flooring, thickly padded cast iron chairs, and beautifully decorated cabanas; all offering expansive vistas.  But, we didn’t use it because it costs extra! I’d rather see Princess offer this area to suite guests, similar to Norwegian’s Haven experience (best ocean cruise experience to date). Aromas coming from the specialty coffee shop were just delicious but, again more money.

Future expansion of the Panama Canal
Future expansion of the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal, considered by many the greatest engineering feat of mankind was interesting to see. The future expansion projected to open in June, 2 years late – brings to attention the global world we’ve become. Considered the world’s shipping channel and best shortcut, millions of dollars of merchandise passes through its waters daily.  Historic and mechanical in nature, Steve along with the other men we met, named this their favorite day.  I enjoyed the scenic and light adventure activities best.  White water rafting on the Reventazon in Costa Rica  and Mystic Mountain with its Bobsled ride and climbing Dunn’s River Falls in Jamaica, were my kind of fun! It was interesting to learn about the Spanish Inquisition in Columbia but neither of us were crazy about Cartagena. However, we spent the entire time within the walls of the Old City and with more time, think we would have found the newer part of the city more favorable.

Cartagena's Old City square
Cartagena’s Old City square

I recommend taking the ship excursions. You can save a few bucks going around the cruise line but, in my opinion it’s not worth it. There is peace of mind in knowing that you are with a reputable vendor AND regardless of any unforeseen circumstances, the ship will not take off to the next port without you.  If you are on your own and you miss boarding time for any reason, you are out of luck! Both in the past and on this cruise in Cartegna and Costa Rica we were grateful for our knowledgeable reputable tour guides.

We love cruising for the simplicity if offers.  Unpacking only once while visiting numerous destinations and having everything taken care of, is the way we like to go.  Intermittent sea days with loose schedules and long walks looking out at sea are our favorite.  We are not alone.  Countless retirees are taking back-to-back cruises.  We encountered many passengers talking about their back-to-back cruises and the different ships with apartments at sea. A couple I met at tea, were doing 3 back-to-back cruises, choosing to stay in the same cabin in order to make things even easier than last time. Personally I’m unsure but, Steve admits he could easily jump on board with this growing trend, once retired.

Chris Rakes; Cruise & All Inclusive Expert 919.589.2437 / crakes@totalexperiencetravel.com

Home now, we are already missing our vacation at sea. Don’t wait, contact me now to plan your Panama Canal or bucket list cruise! Trained and experienced, I help you decipher best options and provide you personalized service for the same price as booking direct. Visit TET’s Facebook page to view the Panama Canal photo album.

Princess Cruise Line Recognizes TET

Local Travel Consultant Becomes Cruise Expert by Earning Prestigious Top Rank in Princess Cruises Academy

Raleigh, NC (4/3/15) – A Raleigh travel advisor has achieved prestigious Commodore status in Princess Cruises’ Academy training program, certifying her as an expert cruise professional. As a Commodore, Christine Rakes of Total Experience Travel joins an exclusive group of travel consultants who are now recognized by Princess at the Academy’s highest level for their unique qualifications and knowledge as a cruise planning professional.  Ms. Rakes earned this distinction after completing the minimum 25 courses necessary to graduate from the program.

“We at Princess are very proud of Christine’s dedication, as she put in extra effort to offer clients exceptional knowledge regarding our cruise vacation product as well as our worldwide destinations,” said Jan Swartz, Senior Vice President of Customer Service and Sales at Princess. “Travel consultants who reach this top level in our Academy program have completed hours of course work to become a cruising expert, which will prove invaluable to providing clients with a great vacation.”

Princess Academy is the cruise industry’s most comprehensive online training program available to travel advisors in the U.S. and Canada. Advisors who complete the extensive coursework become experts on a wide range of topics, offering travelers full knowledge of important details about a Princess vacation such as the different passenger amenities on the line’s 17 ships, the company’s worldwide destinations and the many special programs available onboard.

“I’m thrilled to add Princess Commodore to my list of credentials and to be able to expand my expertise about cruising even further. The knowledge I’ve gained makes me a more valuable resource for my clients, and enables me to recommend the very best vacation which matches all of their needs,” said Chris.

To become a Commodore, travel advisors must fulfill 25 required and elective classes, covering worldwide destinations, onboard programs, and customer service skills. They continue to take elective courses to expand their knowledge and keep their Commodore status current.

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“To simply enjoy the moments and make the memories, work with personal and group travel consultant Christine Rakes at Total Experience Travel.  Treat Yourself!”

For further information contact:

Christine Rakes

Total Experience Travel

(919) 589-2437

info@totalexperiencetravel.com