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BEFORE YOU GO

13 Dollar Store Items for Your Cruise

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Sometimes once you board a ship and get settled into the groove of your cruise vacation, you realize some things could have been done differently, or added to your suitcase to make life onboard a little bit easier.  We’ve got a list of cheap, mostly small things to consider bringing along that you can probably find at your local dollar store.

1. Pill Box

To keep your medicine (or even vitamins!) in order without having to bring each of their individual bottles onboard, pick up a cheap pill box.  You’ll know what to take each day with no fuss, and everything will be in one compact place.

2. Zip Lock Bags

To keep your electronics and other valuable safe and dry on the beach or in your bag, put them in plastic zip lock bags.  These bags also work great for bottles of lotion or body wash that may burst open during travel, or kids’ soiled clothes that haven’t made it to the laundry facilities yet.

3. Poncho

Who wants to get caught in the rain and head back to the ship in soaking clothes?  Not me!  Buy cheap ponchos at the dollar store and throw them in your bag to head off the ship.

4. Travel-Sized Bottles

Unless you live near the port you’ll be boarding the ship from, you’re probably going to be flying to your embarkation destination.  This means that all liquids will need to be less than 3 oz anyway, and travel-approved bottles are perfect for your face wash, lotion, and hair conditioner.

5. Night Light

If you’re traveling with small children or just prefer to have a light guiding your path in the night, pick up a cheap night light.  Interior rooms are especially dark, so if you’re booking an interior room but would like to be able to see your hand in front of your face at night, this is a perfect solution.

6. Magnets

Most cruise ship stateroom walls are metal, so pick up a package of magnets to take along with you on your voyage.  You can hang up the daily ship newsletter, notes on where you are, and other useful things.

7. Net Bag for Laundry

Instead of throwing all of your dirty clothes in the corner, buy a pop-up or regular net bag for your laundry.  The mesh will allow clothes to breathe and not become damp and full of mildew, and the bag will keep everything contained.

8. Over the Counter Medications

Benadryl for allergies, ibuprofen for pain, Dramamine for seasickness, any medicines that you think you might need on your cruise for different small ailments can probably be found at your local dollar store.

9. Rafts

Any place you go is going to charge you for a raft or water noodle. Although taking a noodle onboard might be a struggle, a raft is nicely folded and can be left if you don’t feel like dealing with it.

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10. Big Cup

Buy a cheap cup or water bottle that you can fill up with water or juice, etc. on the ship.  Usually the glasses a cruise line will provide are pretty small, so if you’re a very thirsty person (like me!), it’s nice to have something larger to carry around with you.

11. Suction Hooks

Going along with the magnet theme, suction hooks are great for in-stateroom use, too.  You can suction your loofah to the shower wall, or stick a few on the closet doors for a jacket or sweater hook.  There are lots of possibilities, and they’re small so they won’t take up much room in your precious luggage space.

12. Toiletries

Often, your favorite brand of body wash, soap, or shampoo will make their product in a travel sized bottle.  So, if you don’t want to worry about filling up travel size bottles yourself out of your full-size bottles, consider buying the mini versions.  There are sometimes entire sides of an aisle dedicated to these ready-to-go toiletries.

13. Straws

You may be thinking, what on earth do I need to bring straws on a cruise for? Won’t my drinks come with a straw?  Yes, they will.  However, this is for an entirely un-drink-related purpose.  If you are packing dainty necklaces for your cruise, it’s all too common that they will tangle themselves up during transit.  The solution is to string them through a straw to keep them in a neat loop.  No tangling today, jewelry!

What travel essentials have you found at your dollar store?  Drop us a comment and let everyone know!

dollar store photo in pinterest image: flickr creative commons

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BEFORE YOU GO

Review: Day Use Hotel App Helps Cut Down Post-Cruise Airport Time

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Chances are that if you’re a regular cruiser, you also spend a fair amount of time in airports. And you probably dread doing so. Especially if you’ve just had the most amazing cruise and now your post-vacation buzz is immediately going to be killed by the fact that you have to sit at the airport for six hours waiting for your flight home.

That’s exactly the prospect I was facing recently after a great cruise out of Miami. I’d gotten a great deal on a flight home, but it wasn’t departing until 5 p.m. Since we had to be off the ship by 10 a.m., that left me with a whole lotta time to kill.

It’s worth noting that like a lot of people do, I was up pretty late the night before. So, the prospect of sitting in the airport all day was definitely not appealing. Instead of renting a car for the day or looking for an excursion, I turned to Google in the hope of finding a hotel that offers day rates.

And that’s when I discovered Day Use, a company the lists hotel properties that offer day passes. While you don’t have to download the app to use it, I prefer apps over smartphone browsers, so I opted to download the app… especially since it seemed like the kind of thing I’d get more use out of in the future.

Finding My Hotel 

While you can easily use the app to find a room the day you need it, you run the risk of nothing being available. Instead, it’s probably smarter to try and find something in advance. Once you’ve booked your flight and know when you’ll need a room, it’s a good idea to try and book your day pass at a nearby hotel if you want to make 100 percent sure that you have a place to relax.

The app is about as user-friendly as they get. Simply type in the city you want to find a room in and the date, and a variety of options are presented. They’ll typically give you the time range during which the room is available for use (for example, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., which is pretty common) and the price.

In this case, I wound up going with the Homewood Suites by Hilton. For $69, I was able to have access to the hotel room from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. which was a great deal, especially since this particular room was a suite with a kitchen, living room, and a large bedroom. My flight was at 5 p.m. and the hotel was only about 10 minutes from the airport, which meant I could check out at 3 p.m. and still get there with time to spare.

Notes on the Booking Process

  • Once you enter in the name of the city you want to find a room in, you’ll be presented with a list giving you the name of available hotels and prices. You can also click to see where they are on the map.
  • Search options allow you to look at the choices based on which is nearest, which are the site’s top picks, which are priced lowest to highest and which are priced highest to lowest. (Although really, who asks to see the highest priced first?)
  • To find out more about a specific hotel, click on it. You’ll find a lot of information, including what amenities are offered and which aren’t. For example, some will show that they have a shuttle to the airport, which is definitely a great perk.
  • If you’re picky or want to do something specific – like maybe get in a workout or sit by a pool – make sure to see if the hotel in question has the facilities you’re looking for!
  • When it comes time to book, you’ll be given the option to either create an account (which will make it easier to make future bookings with fewer steps) or do so as a guest.

It’s important to note that no credit card information is required to use the app. Once you find the hotel you want, you’ll be prompted to enter your first and last name, email, and phone number. You’ll then get a text and email confirmation.

Arriving at the Hotel 

If you poke around the site a bit, you’ll find that at most of the hotels, the earliest check-in time available is 10 a.m. If the hotel you selected has a hard-and-fast 10 a.m. check-in time, it’s probably worth staying on the ship and enjoying breakfast rather than rushing to be one of the first people to disembark. Some do offer the option of letting the hotel know what time you plan to arrive, so if you want to check in earlier, it’s worth seeing if that’s an option. But once, having gotten off the ship earlier than I should have, I tried checking into a room at 8:30 a.m. and none were yet ready.

Checking in is pretty much exactly the same as if you were staying for the night. You simply tell them you’ve rented a room for the day and they’ll look up your information.  It’s always a good idea to have the email or text confirmation available in case they don’t have the paperwork yet, especially if you did a booking on the same day as you are arriving.  They will take your credit card for incidentals. Like any hotel, they will place a temporary hold on your card and then release it a few business days later. The amount they hold varies based on the individual hotel’s policy. When I stayed at the  Homewood Suites in Miami, they placed a $75 hold on the card I presented them with.

What I Liked Most About Day Use 

There’s actually a lot to like about this app, even aside from the fact it means you don’t have to hang out at the airport all day! For one thing, the app does not require you to input any sensitive information when holding the room. In this day and age, when it seems as if we’re hearing about data breaches on a regular basis, that’s a real plus. The simplicity of them texting and emailing you the confirmation is great because it gives you what you need immediately.

If you decide to create an account on the app, the functionality improves even more. For example, it allows you to bookmark your favorite hotels, look at your past history and, as I mentioned before, it really streamlines the process the next time you want to use the app. All in all, the app (whose website can also be accessed on your laptop at dayuse.com) is one I’d definitely consider a must-have for all cruise travelers.

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BEFORE YOU GO

15 Overlooked Cruise Experiences

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The best cruising advice I often hear people give on the show is “don’t try to do everything, because you just won’t have enough time.” It’s true – there’s never enough time to enjoy every little pleasure on a big-ship cruise because there’s so much happening all at once. That being said, there are some experiences that many cruisers overlook or discount, and we’ve made a list so you don’t miss them on your next cruise.

1. Tastings

Who knew there were so many different types of margaritas?

As a sales incentive, the shops onboard the ship will often hold free liquor or wine tastings to incentivize guests to buy some products. There’s no obligation though, so why not go and get some free alcohol. You might just try something new that you like.

2. Onboard Classes

From cooking classes to yoga to salsa dancing and mixology lessons, there are endless classes available onboard for almost any interest. Most of these are free and also come with free giveaways like food or alcohol tastings, souvenirs, or other swag.

3. Chef’s Table

So many people pass on the Chef’s Table because of the extra surcharge to dine, but if you can afford the extra cost then it’s an absolute must-do. The Chef’s Table is more than just a 7-course dinner; it’s an experience that includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the galley, entertainment, private meet and greets with the top chefs, and carefully selected menus of mouth-watering food that you won’t find anywhere else on the ship.

4. Adults-Only Spots

Carnival Sunshine

Serenity deck on Carnival Sunshine

Not that kids aren’t great and all, but the peace and quiet of the adults-only deck on a cruise ship – plus the lack of crowds – are a refreshing change for many. Some ships also have VIP deck spaces that are both adults-only and are even more secluded thanks the surcharged required to access them, but the added privacy is worth the extra fee.

5. Staying on the Ship in Port

Although there’s always something to explore in any port of call, there’s also something to be said for staying on the ship on a port day. The ship becomes nearly empty, so you more or less have all of the venues to yourself. No lines on a cruise ship is a pretty appealing concept.

6. Star Gazing

Out at sea, away from the city lights, the stars burn brighter than ever. So don’t forget to take the opportunity to stargaze from the ship while sailing at sea. If it’s cold and windy outside, many ships have an indoor observation deck, where you’ll also find a late-night bar.

7. Main Dining Room for Breakfast or Lunch

Fun cereal french toast on Carnival Vista

The lido buffet can be one of the busiest places on a cruise ship, but even specialty dining venues can get crowded when they’re open. Many cruisers mistakenly think the main dining room is only open for dinner, but it’s usually open for all three meals, especially on sea days! Having a waiter serve your meal is much more relaxing than waiting in a long buffet line and then battling the crowds to find an open table.

8. Booking a Balcony Cabin

There’s nothing better than starting and ending your cruise days with your own private piece of the deck. In the morning, order room service breakfast and enjoy it in your PJs on your balcony. At night, grab a nightcap to go and wind down under the stars in your own room. Of course, a private balcony is nice in the middle of the day too when the lido deck gets busy.

9. All-Access Tour

Most cruisers skip the behind-the-scenes tour either because of the surcharge, or because they just haven’t heard of it. But if you have the chance to take the tour, don’t miss it. It takes you behind public areas to places like the ship’s bridge, engine control room, and main galley.

10. Buying a Spa Pass

Norwegian Escape spa – photo by Norwegian Cruise Line

For most, the main purpose of a vacation is to relax. So why not treat yourself to the ultimate form of rest and relaxation by booking a spa pass? On most ships, this means VIP access to thermal suites that include saunas and steam rooms, jetted pools, and more.

11. Using the Jogging Track

Believe it or not, every ship has an outdoor jogging track in addition to its indoor gym facilities. Why run inside on a treadmill when you could walk, jog, or run around an outdoor track that boasts open-ocean views and sea breezes?

12. Complimentary Lunch Dining in Specialty Venues

Specialty dining venues, which come with a surcharge, are becoming more and more popular on cruise ships. However, many that charge during dinner service are open during lunch hours for free. This is a perfect way to check out some different cuisine without the dinnertime fee.

13. Sunrises and Sunsets

Sunrise in Mohogany Bay

There’s simply nothing more captivating than watching the sun rise or set at sea. Even if you’re not a morning person, make an effort to get up early at least one day on your cruise to witness the beauty of a sunrise at sea. Unless it’s completely overcast, I promise you won’t regret it.

14. Meet and Greets

Almost every cruise line offers meet and greet opportunities with characters. Disney Cruise Line of course has Disney characters, Carnival has Cat in the Hat characters, and Royal Caribbean has DreamWorks characters. Disney even allows you to make reservations for a meet and greet, so be sure to bring a book for autographs for your little ones!

15. Professional Photos

Some people shy away from taking the professional portraits on cruises because of the cost to purchase the final prints. However, the cost of taking and purchasing a professionally shot and edited photograph on land is typically much more by comparison. These photos are priceless memories, and you can buy as few or as many as you’d like.

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BEFORE YOU GO

Menu: Carnival Horizon’s Bonsai Teppanyaki

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Among the new venues to be rolled out onboard Carnival Horizon will be Bonsai Teppanyaki, a first for Carnival Cruise Line. Clearly, the line expects the Teppanyaki experience to be popular, as it will also be featured on their next ship, the currently-under-construction (and open for bookings) Carnival Panorama. So what can you expect from the restaurant… and how much will the for-fee experience cost? Read on for all the details.

How Much Bonsai Teppanyaki Will Cost

Photo via Carnival.

Located inside the popular Bonsai Sushi on deck 5, the Teppanyaki restaurant is the perfect place for groups, as it is a combination of a great meal and entertaining show as the chefs juggle, joke, and cook for 16 guests at a time. Because there’s limited seating available, it’s definitely recommended that you make reservations. And obviously, the bigger your group, the more important it becomes to make a reservation. Also, note that this isn’t only available for groups. As with similar restaurants, parties will be seated together in a communal style (which also makes this a fun way to meet new people).

Meals at Bonsai Teppanyaki will consist of an appetizer, soup or salad, main course, and dessert, and cost between $25-$30 per person, depending on what protein you decide to go with for the entrée. (And yes, lobster tail is an option.)

What Is Dinner Like In A Teppanyaki Restaurant?

Photo via Carnival.

For those who’ve never eaten in a Teppanyaki restaurant before, the good news is that there aren’t really a whole lot of decisions to be made! This isn’t like going to a place where there’s a huge, expansive menu. Instead, there are really only a few choices you have to make, especially since the appetizer portion of the meal is the same for everyone. It includes:

  • White shrimp in soy butter and a salsa vinaigrette
  • Pork belly yakitori with sesame asparagus fries and seaweed salad
  • Sprice Tuna on the Rocks with an onion sesame sauce and den miso

All guests will also have a choice of either Miso soup or a Kabuki salad with ginger dressing. Then comes the part where you have to make the big decision, because you have to pick the protein for your entry (all of which are served with fried rice and stir-fried vegetables).

The options are:

  • Teriyaki salmon with savory and sweet teriyaki glaze
  • Lobster tail with yuzu cream and citrus kosho
  • Shrimp with young lettuce and gyukuro tea
  • Shichimi spiced grilled chicken in a teriyaki sauce
  • Grilled tofu with vegetables, yaki udon, and a teriyaki anticucho sauce
  • Black cod with a soy reduction
  • Filet Mignon with trufae salt and garlic chips

Guests can also choose to do sort of a mix-and-match, with the following combos available:

  • Filet Mignon and Shrimp
  • Shrimp and Spiced Grilled Chicken
  • Filet Mignon and Teriyaki Salmon
  • Filet Mignon and Lobster Tail

And should you still have room after the meal (trust us… it’s more food than it sounds like!), dessert is a Chocolate Bento Box with green tea ice cream

Making  Bonsai Teppanyaki Reservations

As we said before, reservations are highly recommended as the restaurant has both limited hours and seating. If you’ve never made reservations for one of Carnival Cruise Line’s specialty restaurants in the past, let us walk you through the process!

While logged in at Carnival.com, go to the Manage My Booking section and select your sailing. That will take you to My Cruise Manager, pictured above. Scroll down through the various options until, toward the bottom, you see Specialty Dining Reservations. See how in the example above, the names of the specialty restaurants are in a different font color? Click on whichever one you’re interested (in this case, Bonsai Teppanyaki) and it will take you directly to a reservations page that shows which times are available. In the example below, they have three dining times available: 5:30, 7:15, and 9 pm.

Now, it’s possible that no reservation times will be available on the night you want, or perhaps only one option. You’ll also have the opportunity to let the restaurant know if you have any specific food allergies, and if it happens to be a special occasion. Then simply hit “submit reservation,” and the system takes care of the rest.

Should you need to make a change to your reservation once onboard, you can either call or stop by the restaurant. If there aren’t reservations available when you attempt to book in advance, it’s also worth swinging by after you’ve boarded the ship to see if something has opened up (or if perhaps there has been a cancellation). As with all specialty dining reservations, the cost will appear on your final bill at the end of the trip.

Will you be giving Bonsai Teppanyaki a try? 

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Hi, this may be of interest to you: 13 Dollar Store Items for Your Cruise. This is the link: https://cruiseradio.net/13-dollar-store-items-to-get-for-your-cruise/