On Friday, January 31, 2020, Holland America Line formally introduced the newest member of it’s esteemed Culinary Council. A collective of celebrity chefs, the Council oversees all dining on board Holland America Line ships. I was fortunate enough to attend a great evening hosted by Holland America Line at a fellow Seattle-based company’s flagship NYC location, Nordstrom on 57th Street. The event was amazing and here’s why...
Are you considering a cruise for the first time? Maybe you’ve sailed before and want to experience a new ship or different ports of call? Either way, this is just the place to start. Your old pal Erik the Travel Guy has got you covered. Here we go...after you hit the "Read More" button!
For a week in March of this year, my office was located on the Carnival Pride. This is a passenger cruise ship currently operating 6-night itineraries to the Bahamas out of Baltimore, MD. This was the first time I stepped foot on this ship and I was impressed. This ship was put to sea in 2002 and by today’s competitive comparison, The Pride would be considered a smaller ship. However, it still easily carries more than 2,000 passengers and about 1,000 crew. So... quaint and yet still a massive ship that cuts through the ocean waves at an impressive speed of 21 knots.
This ship’s crew was the first of many joys I discovered on board. They were genuinely interested in providing an amazing vacation for every guest. My production crew and I were on board to shoot stand ups for Beyond Your Backyard (the nationally syndicated television series I host for public broadcasting stations) and so while it was work for us, it was fun work surrounded by a staff who seemed to love their jobs. The senior officers with whom we had the pleasure of meeting socially were amazing. They were gracious and accommodating at every turn.
Our itinerary was to take us to Carnival's private island, Nassau, and then on to Freeport. However, due to a sick passenger and some bad weather, the captain avoided rough seas and took us to Port Canaveral for our first port of call. Most guests I spoke to understood the change and took it in stride. Of course, there will always be a few complainers but I am so glad we dropped in on Port Canaveral. It just so happened that on the day we were there, we got to witness a rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center.
I have always advised staying in a balcony cabin or better when cruising. On this trip, because the balcony cabins were all occupied, the video crew and I stayed in ocean view cabins on deck one and found the accommodations to be lovely. Our cabin attendant Ryan was especially awesome!
While on board, I got a haircut and a manicure. No time for a massage but plenty of time to try out the gym and most of the restaurants. I don’t want to dwell on this point, but the food on board was fantastic. I especially enjoyed the Blue Iguana Cantina at both breakfast and lunch. Also, the Main Dining Room was a stand-out for both the food quality and the gracious service. The guys that took care of us were absolutely perfect. They understood that for us, dinner was a time to relax, have a little wine and decompress from the day’s shoot. They knew exactly how to take care of us.
What didn’t I like? It’s a tricky subject because the crew and I were there for work and not really evaluating the experience as a vacation thrill seeker. But I wasn’t all that impressed with the buffet. There, I said it.
I am so glad we partnered with Carnival for this trip. If you have yet to sail with them or if it’s been awhile, then I suggest you get moving and let Carnival introduce (or reintroduce) you to the fun that can all be yours at sea!
If you would like, you and yours can travel with yours truly in March of 2019 on a six day Caribbean itinerary on Carnival's newest ship The Carnival Horizon. More details to come, so be sure to become an "Erik Insider" to get the latest information and join us!
The price of a cocktail, ice-cold beer or delicate glass wine can be on the spendy side when you’re on your next vacation. Understandably so, any alcohol provider whose lot in life it is to charge tourists for booze, in my opinion, should make as much money as possible. Supply and demand, you know? But you fastidious novice vacation thrill-seekers may be tempted to bring your own sweet spirits with you on your next adventure. My advice? Don’t.
Granted, if you are road-tripping, then sure, it is perfectly acceptable to bring your favorite spirit for when you get settled in to your hotel/resort or camping area. But even then, some hotels frown on this practice for a couple of reasons. First, they want to sell you their booze with their mark up, of course. But they also are particularly interested in your safety and the safety of their other guests. Unless they search everyone’s luggage upon check-in, hotels have no way of knowing what each guest is bringing onto the property and into their rooms. Remember, not every hotel guest practices common sense like you and me. Therefore, check with your hotel in advance and at the very least know their BYOB policy. Then you can decide if you want to bend or break the rules a bit on your trip.
Airlines are another story. While you are free to bring alcohol in your carry-on, it is usually against the Airlines’ policy to consume it during flight. In addition, TSA has strict liquid rules and bringing a bottle of wine (or any other type of liquid over 3 ounces) is strictly prohibited and enforced. Learn more about TSA’s liquids rules here. I suppose you could pop a bottle of your liquor of choice into your checked luggage. Airlines do permit this but why are you taking an unnecessary risk? That bottle would need to be bubble wrapped and heavily padded to prevent breakage. And at that point, wouldn’t it just be easier to pop into the liquor store upon your arrival?
Cruise ships are also not big fans of you bringing your own alcohol on board. For a lot of the same reasons hotels frown on this practice, cruise ships are very serious about the safety of all the passengers and crew. Again, I would check with your cruise line for their liquor policy. Or better yet, leave your booze at home.
In general, I love a good cocktail when I’m on vacation. But it’s also worth noting that excessive drinking can be problematic for a myriad of reasons. So, I tend to be a little more strategic, take a few extra precautionary steps and limit my alcohol consumption on vacations. It’s better for my health, safer, cheaper and a lot less hassle.
The bottom line here: While carting around your personal supply of Ketel One on your vacation to save a few dollars may seem like a good idea, upon further research, it simply isn’t. So in my opinion, resolve to paying a little more for each cocktail wherever you’re headed for your next trip. Of course, you could always skip the alcohol all together when you travel. What? I think I was tipsy when I wrote that last sentence. But in all seriousness, always remember to consume responsibly at home or on your next great adventure.
You want to go on a cruise, but with so many options, how do you know which one is best for you? Today we compare two of the best on the ocean: Carnival Vista vs. Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas.
First a couple of quick facts. In 2015, 23 million people from around the world sailed on a cruise ship. More than 11 million of those were from the US. The top cruise destination was the Caribbean. According to industry experts, that number is expected to by 4% next year.
Both “floating hotels” were launched into service in 2016. Both ships are considered mass market cruise ships, and both are owned and operated by two of the largest cruise companies in the world, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
Size may matter to you so here are the stats.
For more videos and information on these two companies you can check the Travel Company Video Index on my site.
Carnival Vista was introduced into the Carnival fleet in May of 2016. After a series of repositioning cruises, this ship arrived at its home port of Miami, Florida. It currently sails on six and eight-day Caribbean itineraries out of Miami. This ship is the first ship in the Vista Class ship with others already on order.
On board Vista, some of the most notable additions include the “Skyride”, which is essentially a self-propelled pod that you can peddle around an 800-foot track, suspended 150 feet about the deck. Seafood Shack is a new dining option and is only available on this ship. Look for lobster rolls, crab legs and other treasures from the ocean all available for an additional charge. If the weather isn’t cooperating, then you can relax and take in a movie at the only IMAX theatre at sea. Deck 2 is officially the family deck, with family-themed and sized staterooms, family common space and even a family concierge to completely satisfy the ever-changing needs of the modern-day sea-faring family.
MS Ovation of the Seas
April 14, 2016 was the maiden voyage for MS Ovation of the Seas. This ship is the first ship built for Royal Caribbean specifically for the Chinese market. It embarked on mini-itineraries for invited guests and members of the press and then began a 52-night odyssey cruise before making its way to its home port of Tianjin, China. This is the third vessel in the Quantum class...and if you know all about classes of ships on these lines, then you really are a cruise nerd...and I love that about you!
If you are a die-hard Royal Caribbean fan, then being on board Ovation of the Seas isn’t necessarily a must because it is virtually identical to the two other sister ships in the Quantum Class: Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas. All three are some of the most technologically stunning vessels at sea. Transformative spaces use using lighting, staging and special effects to dazzle guests. The cruise offers sky diving with iFly, a trapeze school, the North Star, and bumper cars among many other attractions.
Similarities between Carnival Vista vs. Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas
Both ships share some common ground in just about every area of interest. Both ships
Carnival and Royal Caribbean are two companies who understand their passenger’s needs. They have been getting better at it every year since cruising for the masses began being a “thing” back in the 1980’s. These ships are fine examples of cruise innovation and state of the art sailing.
You can book itineraries on both ships directly with the cruise line or with the help of a travel agent. Whichever you choose, I suggest you become a member of their loyalty program. The more you cruise the more perks you get and over time loyalty does have its privileges and rewards.
Will I get Sick on a Cruise?
Before we wrap up, let’s talk illness. Am I going to get sick on a cruise ship? First, I might ask, what type of sick are you asking about? Are you going to get motion sickness? That’s a tough one. That depends on your own tolerance for slight variations in your equilibrium. The rocking motion of ships is caused by the fluctuations on the water in which these ships are sailing. Cruise ships sail in calm waters for the most part. The have state of the art weather forecasting to avoid rough seas. They also are equipped with powerful stabilizers so even in rougher waters, the ship stays level and comfortable.
The other illness you may be asking about is some sort of GI outbreak or Norovirus. The media loves this one. But the short answer is...statistically speaking...no. Health officials including the CDC track these outbreaks, cruise lines are required to report outbreaks and the numbers speak from themselves. 23 million people sailed in 2015 and in 2015 there were 12 outbreaks affecting roughly 2500 people. Total. Drawing your own conclusion is simple.
Why I Love Cruising
I love it to explore new ports of call. I like the notion of letting someone else handle the logistics of travel, and I like knowing where I am going to sleep at the end of each day while I am on vacation. I’ve sailed with both lines numerous times and I have yet to be disappointed. For work, I have stayed in several different cabin types, but for pleasure I always book a suite or at the very least a balcony stateroom. In addition, I always arrive in the embarkation city the night before my sailing (just to be on the safe side) and I usually book a lot of my dining reservations and some shore excursions in advance.
This blog post is designed to help equip you with knowledge...because knowledge is power. This blog post also contains some editorial opinion by yours truly. Facts contained here may change without notice. We try to keep up with the changes, but I strongly encourage you to do your own research perhaps consult with a real live travel agent before making travel purchases.
If you are debating cruises vs. all-inclusive resorts with your travel companions, then congratulations! You are one step closer to experiencing a potentially life-changing vacation!
The good news about both travel options is both are great options. The cruise industry and the all-inclusive properties worldwide have all evolved based on guest preferences, technology, and industry-wide improvements and oversight.
Which vacation option is better?
Cruisers love to cruise, and they might shrug at other vacation options, even an all-inclusive resort. Others tend to hate cruising but love the one-stop shopping of an all-inclusive. The reality is that both vacation options have pros and cons, many which are similar. If you don’t know which category best suits you...let’s dig into the details.
An all-inclusive resort is generally as it sounds. You pay one price in advance for your room, all meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and non-motorized watersports. Extras may include golf, spa treatments, excursions or day trips, WIFI and premium or upcharge restaurants. When evaluating which all-inclusive is perfect for you, a little self-reflection is in order before you plunk down your hard-earned dollars.
The Pros of an All-Inclusive Resort
Known costs – The pros begin with you know what you are paying for upfront with little room for surprises. My suggestion is to check with a qualified travel specialist on which all-inclusive is right for you based on your preferences. Be honest and don’t be afraid to say exactly what you are looking for, chances are that property exists and good travel professional knows which ones to recommend and which ones to avoid.
Central Location - One of the other pros of an all-inclusive is you can make it the hub for all your exploration. By booking an all-inclusive (just like an ala carte resort), you always return to the same room each night. But remember, you get what you pay for.
Upgrades - If the resort has a club level or private check in or concierge, I suggest you splurge and pay for added service, amenities or a larger room. You don’t want to get there and realize for just a few extra dollars a day you can avoid some of the crowds by “upgrading”. Making real-time changes to your accommodations can sometimes be problematic.
Immersion Experience – One of the biggest benefits of an all-inclusive you are in the space place for your entire vacation, which means you can immerse yourself in the local culture. You can get out and explore every nook and cranny of the region.
Cons of All-Inclusive Resorts
Limited programming – One of the biggest drawbacks that some consumers complain about at an all-inclusive is boredom. The programming options are at your own pace which means, if you don’t participate, you may find yourself a little bored. Also, selecting the correct resort for YOU is essential. Otherwise, you could end up at a property that doesn’t meet your needs. Simple questions like kids or no kids, romance and reflection or party hardy, what’s your budget, what time of year do you wish to travel...will all affect price and property selection.
Destination Costs – Keep in mind, the all-inclusive may be in a destination that you have to fly to. If budget is a concern of yours, then remember that airline ticket pricing will vary based on the season and supply and demand.
I would suggest if you are traveling outside the US for an all-inclusive, that you also secure a vacation insurance policy in case of a medical emergency or the unlikely evacuation.
Cruising is ideal if you like the idea of exploring different ports of call for a short period of time. Think of it as a chance to get a quick glimpse of these destinations to decide whether you wish to return on future visits.
The very first rule I live by when selecting a cruise is... who else will be on that ship? That’s a big one for me. I take lots of vacations for two basic reasons, work and pleasure. Work is one thing but for my own personal vacations...it matters to me who I am sailing with. But more on that in a moment.
The cruise industry is a big industry and cruise companies have lots of ships and itineraries to choose from. On the plus side, you’ve got options. The Caribbean, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Europe. Ocean cruising vs. river cruising. Much like an all-inclusive, you pay upfront for certain things such as port charges, taxes, your stateroom, gratuities, amenities, entertainment, food and nonalcoholic beverages. Of course, there are lots of ways to part with your money as well after your initial purchase. Premium restaurants, WIFI, alcoholic beverages, spa treatments and shore excursions are a few that come to mind. It’s safe to say some cruise companies/itineraries include all the extras so no additional cash is needed on board.
Factors affecting price include:
Pros of Cruises
Ease of travel - You only need to get to your embarkation city and then get on the ship. Which may mean, the airlines will play perhaps a smaller role in your trip planning.
Multiple activities - Yu can be as active as you choose. The cruise director and his or her staff have activities, lectures and entertainment going on around the clock both on your at sea days and some of the port days.
The Food – The larger the ship the more options you have every day. Gone are the days of a just a steam table buffet and a cattle call. Also, cruise lines understand the needs of passengers when it comes to dining. Most lines have flexible dining times and like the rest of the travel industry the dress codes have been relaxed...for the most part depending on the cruise line.
Cons of Cruises
The ship could leave you – The ship will not wait for you should you be delayed and miss embarkation. Getting to the next port of call is at your expense.
Appears crowded – Another potential con to cruising is you will be near potentially thousands of people while you are on board and presumably when you are in port. However, it is important to note just how big these ships are. They can easily accommodate this large number of passengers and crew, so you are comfortable and happy.
The cruise industry builds itineraries with two basic types of days...at sea days and port days.
Static itineraries – You pretty much must stick with the itinerary the ship is. If weather affects your trip, you may miss a port or change a port of call due to extenuating circumstances.
Cabin space – It is not the largest place to call home for a week, but it does serve its purpose. An upside here is getting adjoining staterooms or a multi bedroom suite so you can feel free to spread out just a little more.
In addition, unless you are an experienced cruiser, I would always book at least a balcony cabin. Cabins are divided into inside cabins with either 1) no windows or a virtual balcony (a giant television that acts as a window with real time view), 2) an ocean view cabin which is a cabin with a window, 3) a balcony cabin or 4) a suite. I suggest you seriously consider booking a suite. It will cost more but the extra amenities in my opinion are worth it. Concierge service, private areas of the ship reserved for suite guests, priority dining and shore excursion bookings, and expedited embarkation and disembarkation are just a few of the perks that ease the annoyances of travel. Plus, in most cases you’ll earn more loyalty points towards achieving “frequent cruiser” status which provide even more amenities and services.
Cruise lines like some all-inclusive resorts have loyalty programs; I suggest you sign up immediately once you book.
How to book a Cruise
Planning and booking a cruise can be done online directly with the cruise line. However, I strongly suggest you use the advice and booking services of a trusted travel professional. They are an invaluable resource when it comes to selecting the perfect cruise for YOU. They also have access to deals and specials that are either not available or hard to find online.
We announced last week that while the staff here at Erik The Travel Guy takes lots of trips, to help bring you the latest and greatest info, we want you to be a part of the selection process.
You can vote at erikthetravelguy.com/vote or leave a comment on this video in the comments below.
Keep in mind, this video is for educational purposes only. This video also contains some editorial opinion by yours truly. Facts contained here may change without notice. We try to keep up with the changes, but I strongly encourage you to do your own research before making travel purchases.
As I said last week, leave a comment, ask a question and suggest future episodes in the comments section.
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I am a huge fan of cruising. Once you've been on a cruise, it's easy to get hooked. In fact, cruising has one of the highest retention rates in the travel industry. This means once people cruise, they come back time and time again. I am one of those people. So here are my top eight reasons to stretch your sea legs!
I love an excellent adventure. But I love to get settled into once place. On a cruise, I like settling into my stateroom and not seeing my suitcase again until the departure day. The housekeepers on cruise ships are fantastic. They clean, tidy and in some cases leave little surprises (like chocolate or creatively folded towels) in your stateroom!
Way To Begin to Explore
Travel can be expensive, and cruising is an affordable way to start your world exploration of Europe, the Caribbean, you name it. I have found over the years that cruising is an excellent way to determine whether or not you want to return to a particular destination. I found this to be true with Ephesus, Turkey. I love that place and I discovered it from a cruise! If water is close to the destination, then chances are high you can get there on a ship.
All Inclusive and Buy As You Go
On a cruise, culinary delights are included in your vacation. In some cases, everything is included, but most mass market cruise lines and itineraries include the basic fare and plenty of it. This means you don’t have to eat at a premium restaurant if you prefer not to. A premium restaurant in “cruise speak” is a high-quality restaurant on board the ship where, by paying a nominal fee per person, you can select steaks, seafood, French cuisine or sushi (just to name a few delicacies). But again, you choose how much you want to spend on these extras...and some choose none at all.
River or Ocean
Ocean cruising became popular in in America in the 1980’s. Ocean cruises in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Europe and Alaska remain the most popular cruises, and for good reason. However, river cruising has exploded in popularity in the last two decades. River cruises are an excellent way to get closer to exotic ports all over the world. Just imagine yourself dancing to the Danube Waltz on the Danube River or learning about Portugal's port wine production on the Douro River...
Kids Are Happy
Cruise lines understand the importance of keeping the kids happy! And most of them do an excellent job. Sure, you would expect Disney to do well with the kiddos, but you may be surprised to learn that Royal Caribbean and Carnival (among others) have extensive programs for kids of all ages. They also offer in-cabin babysitting! Do your homework and then select a cruise line and itinerary that the kids will love!
Active As You Want
Some experienced cruisers I’ve talked to never leave the ship! Hard to believe, but for them, they’ve already been to the ports the ship is visiting. Cruise ships are a means to get somewhere but over the years, they’ve developed into destinations unto themselves. This is where the flexibility really comes into play. While on board you can go to the pool, the casino, the adults' area, the spa or shop in the on board boutiques. Or, you can opt to do absolutely nothing. I mean it. If you want to rest, take in a little sun and be pampered, then a cruise is an excellent idea.
Ah, yes, the spa. Each mass market cruise line has developed an expansive and invigorating spa. We’re talking massages, wraps and cucumbers in the eyes! And that’s jut the beginning. I suggest booking early for the optimal spa appointment times on your at sea days.
Departure City Options
I live in the Northeast and in Knoxville, which means, I have lots of options when it comes to departure cities. Miami and the Atlantic coast have the most choices when it comes to cruise lines and itineraries. But Charleston, Baltimore, NYC, Galveston and San Diego are just of the few of the departure cities from where you can be whisked away to paradise!
Learn how to get the best deal by watching this video!
On the 22nd of June, 2017, Ritz-Carlton announced it was getting into the luxury cruise business. Sometime in Q4 of 2019, three new ships will debut each featuring 149 suites to accommodate 298 guests. So the question I have is, will this be a brand branching too far out from its core business or will this be hailed as a wild success. Time will tell, but I think their is enough water in the ocean for luxurious competition. First, it's not as though we are in uncharted waters here. The commercial business is huge in this country and has come a long way since the first days of Carnival. And certainly there are other luxury yacht, small and mid ship cruises on the market, but Ritz has the cache and the mailing list to have a leg up on the competition. But I can say this, if anybody can get it to work it's Ritz Carlton and its parent company Marriott International.
You can read the official release here and get more information about RC Yachts here.
So I say we make our reservations in May of 2018 for a seven or ten day itinerary and then get ready to have a fantastic cruise.
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!