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BEFORE YOU GO

10 Cruise Tips for the Best Vacation

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If we were to truly make a list of cruise tips, it would probably never end. There are so many tips and tricks out there for cruising – how to get the best deals, packing hacks, stateroom comparisons, etc. But these 10 tips help sum up a general guide on how to make the most of your cruise vacation.

1. Get a travel agent.

You should do this before you do anything. An agent won’t cost you a dime, and they can help you get the best rate and find the best cruise line, ship, and itinerary to fit your needs. They can also help you get onboard credit if the price drops as well as other perks, so it’s a no-brainer.

2. Study your ship.

This one is important. While your travel agent should give you some tips about your ship, you should also do some research of your own. Some ships have more to offer than others in terms of onboard activities – for example, water slides, rock climbing, surfing, zip-lining, specialized bars or restaurants – so it’s important to know what will be available to you before you go so you can take full advantage of these amenities.

3. Pre-book your plans.

When it comes to cruising, there’s not much that you can’t pre-book. Whether you’re thinking about a spa service, a specialty restaurant reservation, or your shore excursions, you can reserve any and all of these ahead of time. And you should, as they can sell out. On some ships, the evening shows also require reservations which can be made before you cruise as well.

4. Research the ports.

While some ports are rich in history and would be best for a historical city tour, other ports are best for a beach break day, and then still other ports are best for the more adventurous crowds like zip-lining, cave-tubing, or climbing a waterfall. You’ll want to be prepared to know which port is best for what, so do some research ahead of time or talk to your travel agent. Be sure to keep a budget in mind for your excursions while you plan, and consider things like taxis, tips for tour guides, photos, souvenirs, etc.

5. Don’t overpack.

This is a tough one, but the truth is you never need as much as you think. When packing, try to pick versatile clothing that can be worn for day wear as well as dressed-up for dinner, and pack as few shoes as possible, as they seem to take up the most room in a suitcase. The less you bring, the less clutter you will have in your stateroom and the more room you will have in your suitcase to bring home souvenirs. You can read our packing tips article here

6. Come hungry.

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Cruises are known for having amazing and world-famous cuisine, so don’t be afraid to try new plates and flavors. If you’re eating in the main dining room, remember that you can order as many appetizers, entrees, and desserts as you’d like – it’s all included. That being said, if your ship offers specialty dining venues, this is one aspect of your cruise you should absolutely splurge on.

7. Be flexible and adaptable.

Sometimes, cruise ships are forced to cancel a port of call. While it’s disappointing to miss a port that you’ve probably spent months planning your visit to, understand that when a ship cancels a port of call it is always done out of safety for the passengers and crew. Remember, there are worse places to be than vacationing on a cruise with a modified itinerary, and make the best of your new adventure!

8. Buy trip insurance

You may be convinced that you don’t need trip insurance, but this is one item you shouldn’t leave out of the budget. If your flight gets cancelled and you miss embarkation day for your cruise, trip insurance will cover the cost to get you there. If you get sick onboard and find yourself with a bill for thousands of dollars from the ship’s medical team, trip insurance will cover it. If you need to cancel your cruise after final payment date, many times trip insurance will cover that too. Of course, specific coverage always depends on what plan you actually buy, and your travel agent can help with that. But don’t make the mistake of cruising without it. If you need more convincing, you can probably find some horror stories online from people who didn’t think they’d need it… but did.

9. Put your phone on airplane mode.

For one, you should do this to avoid roaming charges from your cell phone service provider. But you should also do this because you’re on vacation. Unplug. Although cruise lines can offer high-speed Internet for incredibly affordable prices these days, don’t get it. Leave everything behind for a few days and just enjoy your vacation in the moment.

10. Have FUN!

Some of us can get so caught up in the planning, coordinating, and organizing that we forget to sit back and enjoy ourselves. Sure, plan for your cruise and come prepared, but don’t overdo it. Leave a little to the imagination and let yourself be surprised. Kick back, relax, and soak in that ocean horizon view.

What cruise tips do you have?

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BEFORE YOU GO

13 Things to Do at Galveston Cruise Port

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Galveston Island is the perfect getaway for a pre or post-cruise stay. The island offers a ton of food, culture, attractions, shopping, and more, making it more than just a place to drive through on the way to your cruise vacation. Next time you sail from Galveston, consider spending time there to take advantage of these 13 things to do.

1. Shop on The Strand

Located right across from the cruise terminal, “The Strand” is a historical district full of shops and restaurants. In addition to the various clothing and gift shops that line Strand Street, there is also a giant chess set for playing in the adjacent Saengerfest Park as well as a running trolley for transportation.

Photo via Galveston CVB

2. Drink beer at Galveston Island Brewing Co.

If you’re into craft beer, or if you like beer at all, a visit to Galveston Island Brewing Co. is a must. It’s a quaint brewery with a quiet spot on the island, and their facilities include an indoor bar and seating, souvenirs, tables with board games, as well as outdoor seating and decking, a small stage for live music, picnic tables, and cornhole. It’s kid-friendly and dog-friendly, and they serve up some of the best beer you’ll ever taste.

3. Enjoy a drink at Murdoch’s

Murdoch’s is a Galveston treasure. Now a gift shop with a bar, it has been rebuilt several times over the years after being devastated by hurricanes – the most recent being Hurricane Ike in 2008. You’d never know it though, because its unwavering spirit survives every time. The bar serves frozen daiquiris and piña coladas as well beer, including local craft brews from the island. Because the shop extends out over the water as a pier, you can enjoy your drink on its back porch while sitting over the water.

4. Walk the Seawall

On the south side of the island, you’ll find the seawall. The 10 miles of beach along the seawall are all public, so feel free to park along the wall and enjoy a day under the sun, walking along the wall or enjoying the beachfront. Parking costs only $1 per hour or $8 for the day and can be paid via the Pay By Phone app on a smartphone.

5. Ride the rides at Pleasure Pier

Galveston’s Historic Pleasure Pier is hard to miss, extending out from the island and over the water like a beacon. The pier boasts a roller coaster and rides in addition to food, shops, and carnival games. All-day ride passes vary for kids based on whether they’re shorter or taller than 48 inches, but four all-day passes for a family, all taller than 48 inches, costs $100. There are discounted tickets available for seniors, active military and veterans, and through local hotels for guests.

Photo via Galveston CVB.

6. Adventure Through Moody Gardens

Made up of three large pyramids, Moody Gardens is easy to spot from the bridge while driving onto the island. Moody Gardens is a museum and adventure park in which each pyramid hosts a different attraction: an aquarium, a rainforest, and an MG 3D theater. It also functions as a resort, complete with on-site dining, spa amenities, a golf course, as well as a splash pad, river, wave pool, and man-made beach.

7. Visit Schlitterbahn

Schlitterbahn is a year-round water park located on the island that features everything from water slides to a lazy river to a swim-up bar. Tickets in the summertime run $51 per person for a day pass or $39 for children and seniors; however, prices are nearly half that in the spring (March to mid-April).

Photo via Galveston CVB.

8. Grab Some Grub

If you’re looking for a good place to grab grub in Galveston, the choices are endless. Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant on the seawall has been an island hallmark since it opened in 1911 and serves up some of the freshest seafood around. The Spot, also on the seawall, serves locally famous burgers as well as fresh seafood and has four individual, unique bars inside: a tiki bar, tequila bar, rum bar, and general backyard bar. Of course, if you’re looking to stay closer to the cruise terminal, Fisherman’s Wharf and Willie G’s are both popular spots for fresh seafood and other bites.

9. Sunbathe on Pocket Beaches

If you’re willing to travel a bit further south, Galveston Island has several pocket beaches that are open to public access but are not nearly as busy as the public beach at the seawall. If you’re looking at sites like Airbnb for a pre or post-cruise stay and want more quiet beach time, look for properties closer towards the Jamaica Beach area to avoid the crowds.

10. Visit Historic Homes

Another fun thing to do in Galveston is to tour the historic homes on the island. One of these is Bishop’s Palace, which was built in the late 1800s and is an example of Victorian architecture. Inside, the “palace” features unique details like marble columns, stained glass windows, and a mahogany staircase. Another home to visit is Moody Mansion. Also built in the late 1800s, the mansion has 31 rooms, including a ballroom, and was built in the Romanesque style.

Photo via Galveston CVB.

11. Visit Museums

Galveston Island is bursting with museums. Two of the most popular among tourists include the Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum and Galveston Railroad Museum. The Ocean Star Museum is a retired jack-up rig that you can board to learn about the process of extracting oil offshore. The Galveston Railroad Museum operates rail rides, and many of the rail cars can even be boarded and viewed on the lot.

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12. Tour the Tall Ship Elissa

Docked at Pier 21 next to the cruise terminal, the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa floats proudly as a Galveston attraction and is still a functioning vessel. To learn more about the history of the ship’s commerce and history, you can visit the adjacent Texas Seaport Museum and even board the ship to wander its decks.

13. Watch the Ships Leave

Photo via Heather Baxter.

If you arrive the day before your cruise (or stay the day after) and there’s a ship in port that day, it’s always fun to watch the ships leave from Pier 21. There’s plenty of open deck area to simply hang around and watch the ships. But if you feel like snacking while you wait, the restaurant Fisherman’s Wharf offers outdoor seating with prime views of the ships sailing off. Just ask the hostess for a seat outside; they are always happy to accommodate.

Photos via Galveston CVB


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BEFORE YOU GO

5 Ways to Protect Your Passport

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Protecting your passport is one of the most important things to do on your vacation. Your passport is truly your passport to the world and back again. Without it though, you may run into some unplanned problems.

5 Ways to Protect Your Passport

passport

1. Copy It

Don’t leave home without a copy of your passport. Before you leave the country, make a copy of the main page of your passport. Take one copy with you and leave one with a trusted friend or family member. You can also scan a copy and email it to yourself so you’ll have a digital copy accessible. Keep your copy away from your passport while you’re traveling. In the event your passport is lost or misplaced, you’ll be asked to provide: Issue Date, Issuing Agency, Passport Number and Expiration Date. With a copy of this info, it’s much easier to replace your lost/stolen passport.

2. Know It

Know who to call or contact in the event of a missing passport. In the United States, call the National Passport Information Center (NPIC) at 1-877-487-2778. If you’re overseas, contact the nearest embassy or consulate. Check out the location list at www.usembassy.gov and keep it with you when traveling overseas.

3. Hold It

Don’t just hand your passport over to anyone who asks for it. Be very sure you’re giving it to a trustworthy person. Thieves and con artists have gotten clever and dress up as officials to try and get your info and identity. If you’re unsure at all of who’s asking for your passport, use a different form of ID first. Remember, you don’t need your driver’s license to get back into the US; you do need your passport.

4. Insure It

You know we’re firm believers in travel insurance, but here’s another great reason why you should always have it. If your passport is lost or stolen and has to be replaced, travel insurance can help cover the cost of replacement. They’ll help direct you to the nearest embassy or location to get a new photo taken. Travel insurance can also help with the cost of any itinerary changes due to the lost passport.

5. Wrap It

Starting in 2006, the United States has started issuing passports with an RFID (Radio-Frequency IDentification) chip. These chips consist of data and a small antenna. The problem is that your personal data can get read from your passport from thieves without ever opening, touching, or even coming close to your passport. It just takes you walking by someone with a scanner.

Consider buying a wallet with an RFID shield or a good home remedy is to wrap it in aluminum foil. Amazon sells an affordable Smooth Trip Passport Holders with an RFID blocker for under $10.

Hopefully these tips help you avoid a travel horror story! Have you ever lost your passport overseas? What are some ways that you protect your passport? We’d love to hear from you with any tips on keeping your passport safe and sound!

Photo via Flickr

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BEFORE YOU GO

How to Break Down Your Cruise Fare

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This post was inspired by someone very close to me, my sister. She was trying to tell me that she found a cruise for $229 and not a penny more.

The Email

My Bahamas cruise initially said $229 per person but when I went to book it, it was $646.54!!! Why did the advertised price say one thing and when I booked it was another? What gives??

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 2.59.55 PM

Attractive Pricing

Buying a cruise can be compared to buying a car: The pricing looks very attractive until you start adding on the tax, tag and title.

Based on Double Occupancy

A cruise ship is a big floating resort with the exception that the cruise fare you see is based on double occupancy. If you see a price for $229, double that for two people, triple for three and so on. Some cruise lines give pricing breaks for more than two people per stateroom.

Words to Know:

Carnival_Sunshine_NewOrl-1

To the untrained eye, it’s almost rocket science breaking down a cruise fare. But before we do that, let’s get familiar with some cruise ticket terminology.

  • Base Fare: the cost of the stateroom before any other fees are added. This is the price you will typically see advertised. This rate is associated with the accommodations you choose.
  • Gratuities: if you choose to prepay, this will be added in the total price of your cruise. Gratuities generally run between $11-$14 per person per day.
  • Vacation Protection: better known as travel insurance offered by the cruise line. You can also buy travel insurance from a third party provider. Cruise line policies are typically blanket policies while third party policies are done on an individual basis.
  • Taxes, Fees and Port Expenses: the cruise line has no control over these charges. Port Fees and Government taxes are charged and controlled by the country the cruise ship is visiting and are passed straight to the guest.
  • Service Fees: if you are booking on an online booking engine like Priceline you will find a $24.99 convenience fee added to your cruise booking.
  • Total: the sum of all the above fees added together. This could either be just the base fare and port taxes or all listed, depending on how you book your cruise.

The Structure 

The three-night Bahamas cruise had a price point of $229 but had a final price tag of $646.54. So why the prices difference?

Let’s look at the screenshot.

Cruise Fare BreakdownScreen Shot 2015-04-16 at 3.03.32 PM

Cruise Fare – $458.00 (remember double occupancy)

Port Taxes and Fees – $188.54

Total – $646.54

Consider the Extras

  • Pier Parking
  • Transfers
  • Vacation Protection
  • Pre-cruise Hotel Packages
  • Shore Excursions
  • Specialty Dining
  • Drink Packages
  • Spa Treatments
  • Internet Package

Final Thoughts

Compared to a land vacation, the value of a cruise vacation is amazing. Where else can you unpack once and experience a sampling of destinations? You really can’t.

An inexperienced cruiser will take the sticker price as the final price. Gather all information before booking your cruise.

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