The True Cost of a Scrapbook Cruise

crafting cruises

This weekend a friend sent a link to Craftour and asked my opinion on their Scrapbook cruise.  So, I did some research.

Basically, Craftour is offering a 7-day cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas to the Mediterranean with pricing starting at $1899 for an inside cabin. The cruise is from September 3 – 10, 2017, which is shoulder season, the best time to go to the Mediterranean.

Is this a deal? How much does just scrapbooking in the Mediterranean cost?  How many hours would I be scrapbooking?

So, I set out to find answers to my questions.

On the Royal Caribbean site, the starting price for an inside cabin for this cruise is $1048 and a balcony is $1748.  Depending on the chosen stateroom category the cost of scrapbooking is $700 to $800.  crafting cruises2

The Craftour website does not discuss how scrapbook classes will be given. I sent an email of inquiry and quickly received a response that explained classes will be given each evening and on the sea day.

That doesn’t sound like fun to me.  I don’t want to return from a full day of sightseeing to sit in a room and scrapbook  from 8pm until 11pm.

On a cruise, when not in my room, I only drink and dance at night. I do not scrapbook.

In essence, I would pay  $750 for 1 day of scrapbooking. No Bueno. This is not a deal for me.

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Captain Club Members Welcome the New Celebrity Edge

Celebrity EdgeYesterday, I received an official announcement at 3:13 pm that Celebrity’s newest ship, the Celebrity Edge,  is open for booking.   The email came from Celebrity titled, “Celebrity Edge revealed: Get your first inside look”.   Two hours later at 5:13 pm, I received an email from vacationstogo.com titled, “Celebrity Past Guest: New Ship Celebrity Edge Open for Sale!”.

If Celebrity is offering a deal for past guest or Captain Club members it is a secret to me. After checking the vacationtogo.com and the Celebrity site, it seems that everyone is receiving the same pricing.  As a Captain Club Elite member, this is very disappointing.

Anyway, this is the first cruise ship to be completely designed in 3-D and the Design Ambassador is Nate Berkus from the Oprah Show.

The  Celebrity Edge will debut in December 2018 with sailings to the Eastern or Western Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale. All open sailings are 7 nights and pricing starts at $999.

 

Luxury Group Tour Deals for Morocco

Weekly, I receive email announcements for discounts from several travel companies. As with most mail, some are worthy of mention but most are not.

Today, I received an announcement from Gate 1 with several discounted tours. Of particular interest to me is the discount for their Luxury Morocco trip but I have questions. Is this trip really luxury?  If not, is it still a good deal?

The Gate 1 Deal

Africa-Morocco-Imperial-Cities-(1024x460)11 Day Deluxe Morocco Luxury experience with 5-star hotels, private visits and personalized services$4349 from $3599

Lead Price Travel Date: Apr 24 ‘17
Promo Valid for Departures: April – December 2017

Package Includes

  • Flights New York-Casablanca, Marrakesh-New York. Other departure cities available.
  • Airline taxes & fuel surcharges
  • 9 nights accommodations in well-located 5-Star Luxury Hotels
  • All transfers
  • Maximum 24 passengers per tour
  • 21 meals: 9 breakfasts, 6 lunches with soft drinks, 6 dinners with wine
  • Bottled water daily
  • Welcome and Farewell receptions
  • Hotel porterage and complimentary in-room Wi-Fi
  • Comprehensive sightseeing with all entrance fees per itinerary
  • Tour manager throughout plus local guides in each city
  • Comfortable air-conditioned vehicles
  • Tips for restaurant staff, drivers, and local guides

How to Book

Book by March 13, 2017 and save $750 per person off our regular price. Lowest price reflects $750 promotional savings. Promotion is not valid on existing reservations. To redeem the discounted savings, use promotional code DLDXMA750 at the time of booking.

Is This Really Luxury?

All the hotels included in the trip are considered 5-star centrally located hotels. Meals included are not significantly lower than its direct competitor Tauck, which offers 43 meals instead of  Gate 1’s 41. Also, all tips and porterage are included.  So, yes this is a luxury tour.

Is This Trip A Deal?

I can’t decide if the problem I have with the tour is boredom or that it isn’t luxurious enough to me.  This trip is very similar to the offering from Tauck for Morocco it is basically the same itinerary and differs only with two hotel selections; Tauck chooses to stay at the Four Seasons in Casablanca and La Tour Hassan in Rabat.

Tauck is well respect, high-end and all-inclusive. However, I would not say this is their most imaginative or most luxurious trip.

In my opinion, Abercrombie and Kent does a far better job with their small group Morocco itinerary.

But the Abercrombie & Kent trip is $6995 plus airfare.

The cost of the Tauck trip is $5490 to $6490 depending on the date and does not include air.

If you like the itinerary for the Tauck Morocco trip, this Gate 1 Signature Collection Morocco trip is a Deal.

 

Solo Cruiser Discounts

There are many articles online about how solo cruisers can find friends when on a cruise or sail cruise lines with single berths.  No one tells you what I will. There are sites that post the latest solo cruise discounts. There is still a supplement but it is much lower than the usual 200 percent.  The two options for discounts are below.

 

Vacationstogo.com

The first option is to go to the vacationstogo.com single discount page and see what is available.  The site lists single supplement increases for as little as 0 percent, 25 percent or 40 percent.

Cruise Websites 

The second option for solo cruisers is to go directly to the cruise line sites.  I have listed cruise lines that have pages dedicated to solo cruise discounts below.

Crystal Cruises

Oceania Cruises

Silverseas Cruises

RSSC

Azamara

 


 

 

Celebrity Cruises Best for a Suite

I have never booked a cruise suite because I usually cruise alone and I don’t spend enough time in my room that it necessitates a suite.

However, I was thinking of taking a trip with a friend and wondered if the itinerary I was looking at made sense with a suite.

I went to Vacationstogo.com and I did a custom search for cruises with the following criteria:

  1. Port stops in Barcelona and Lisbon
  2. Dates from July to November 2017
  3. Cruise ships: Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Regent, and Crystal

cruises-suites

Suite Comparisons

I picked four of the above cruises to compare and one from each cruise line.

To get true comparisons, I did the following:

  1. Priced the trip for two
  2. Used Business Class flights (Regent)
  3. Approximated cost of shore excursion for two people to be $1000
  4. Added drink packages and gratuities, where applicable
  5. Priced each cruise through its lines website to get accurate pricing i.e got price from RCL trip on royalcaribbean.com
  6. Used hipmunk.com to price flights from JFK

flights

The Winner!

Celebrity Cruises is the winner because it is the lowest price for an all-inclusive suite. It also has a promotion for this cruise in the suite category that includes free premium drinks and gratuities.

 A Sky Suite on Celebrity comes with:

  • Personal butler service to help you pack/unpack, make your spa appointments,celebrity-silhouette dinner reservations, shore excursions and more
  • Dedicated private restaurant, Luminae, reserved exclusively for all Suite Class guests
  • Access to the private Michael’s Club Lounge
  • Priority check-in & debarkation
  • Reserved theater seating on Evening Chic nights
  • Full in-suite breakfast, lunch & dinner service
  • Complimentary daily in-suite espresso and cappuccino
  • Priority tender service
  • Afternoon canapés and tea service, complimentary daily in-suite espresso and cappuccino
  • Main & specialty restaurant seating preferences
  • Pillow menu
  • Fresh flowers
  • Welcome bottle of Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine
  • Bottled water on Embarkation Day
  • Daily Delectables rotation of savory and sweet snacks

Why not RCL, Crystal or Regent?

Choosing to sail in a suite on RCL for this cruise is not a deal. A Junior suite on Royal Caribbean is basically a large balcony room with a tub. Junior suites also include tea and coffee service ensuite and terry bathrobes (for use onboard). The reason to choose this cruise is because you are traveling with children or you love the itinerary.

In contrast, all of Regent’s rooms are suites.  Included in the price you pay is roundtrip air, unlimited shore excursions, Wi-Fi, unlimited beverages, specialty restaurants and gratuities.  However, the price tag is high because you are paying for a luxury country club experience. I am not willing to pay almost twice the price of Celebrity for inclusive shore excursions.

Finally, Crystal Cruises was just too expensive. I can not imagine paying $32,122.96 when Celebrity offers exactly the same thing albeit with fewer luxury and entertainment options.

Cruise Encyclopedias

Two of the best sources for understanding the current state of the cruise industry are Cruise Critic and  Berlitz Guide: Cruising and Cruise Ships.  Cruise Critic is a website that is a combination of cruiser reviews and editorial content.  In contrast, the Berlitz Guide is a book,  over 700 pages, compiled by a guy that travels all year on cruises.

Each has its uses.

Validate Complaints

When you cruise a lot you hear complaints from other cruisers. It is hard to decipher if those complaints are felt by one or many.  Cruise Critic is an amplifier. However, it is hard to compile the complaints by year based on how it is organized. But usually, the reviews are validated in the Berlitz guide. Last year, the complaints were about the diminished quality of Celebrity cruises. Berlitz validated that complaint in this year’s guide by stating that Celebrity is a more refined Royal Caribbean, the quality is not what it was in previous years.   Basically, a downgrade.

The newest complaint on Cruise Critic is that the level of service on Crystal has diminished since the company was sold to Genting Hong Kong in 2015.  You will not find this in the 2017 Berlitz guide.   If it is a valid complaint it should be in the 2018 version of the Berlitz Guide.

Rating of Best Ship for the year

Both Cruise Critic and Berlitz rate the best cruise ships. However, their standard is very different. The Cruise Critic rating is based on reviews from fellow cruisers. It really depends on who is using the site the most. Luxury cruisers are a minority and the ratings from Cruise Critic reflect that. The Berlitz rating is based on the rankings given to each ship and then each cruise line compiled yearly by one author.

Top Resort Ship

Berlitz – Queen Mary 2

Cruise Critic – Disney Dream

Top Mid-Size Ship – Viking Sea

Berlitz – Viking Sea

Cruise Critic  – Viking Sea and Disney Magic

Top Small Ship

Berlitz – Europa 2

Cruise Critic – Celebrity Xpedition

Take the time to check out both sources. They will be valuable to planning your next cruise regardless of whether you are a first-time or an experienced cruiser.

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from a Wine Country Enthusiast

When one says wine country in America, Napa comes to mind. However, there are many other places for you to visit.  In addition to Napa, California has more than 15 wine producing regions. But you can also go to the Oregon’s Willamette Valley, known for their superior Pinot Noirs, Washington’s Yakima Valley or New York’s Finger Lakes just to name a few.  Regardless, of where you choose to travel to taste, buy and enjoy wine.  I have a few notes that will make your trip more enjoyable.

Pick your travel companion with care

I have been to wine country on the east and west coast of the United States and I have been to wine country internationally, Australia, NZ, Chile.   Picking the wrong person or group as a companion will ruin your trip.  As a wine enthusiast, I have tried traveling with other enthusiasts and it can be a battle of wills and tastes.

Plan for bad weather

Sometimes you have to choose between crowds and weather.  The best time to go wine tasting may not be when the weather is good.  For example, some of the best pinot noirs are in Oregon in the Willamette Valley. Although people claim the climate in the Valley is mild, it was biting and rainy when I visited in February 2012.  I came prepared with an anorak and jeans. I didn’t try to look cute while drinking wine and I knew it wasn’t going to be a linger and enjoy the wine trip. 485377_10151314572446824_1822943936_n

 

Plan to only visit 3 wineries a day

The first time I went to Napa/Sonoma we saw more than 5 wineries in a day, two days in a row.  Guess what? My tongue started to hurt.  You are going on a trip to enjoy yourself. Do not cram as many wineries in as possible. It will give you a headache and it can make your tongue hurt.

Call Ahead and Request Access not Open to the Public

Some wineries have affiliations to wineries in different regions. For example, as a member of the Seghesio wine club, I had an affiliation to other wine clubs. When I traveled to Oregon for a tasting, I contacted Seghesio and asked if I could have a tour of the caves at Archery Summit.  Luckily, Archery Summit was having an event which was free to club members and enabled me to tour the caves while enjoying a masquerade party.

archery-summit

 

Plan to do other things

Although I love wine, days of just going to wineries and drinking wine can get boring.  Plan to do other things. Whether is it hiking, shopping, seeing monuments… just plan to do more.