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Gone Kuki

Written by: Kuki

Over 15 years ago Paul Motter and Anne Campbell approached me inviting me to join them writing for their new website, CruiseMates.com.

At the time I had spent 15 years in the bar and restaurant business, and was a relatively new but avid cruiser. I had somehow stumbled into a position hosting a cruise message board, and live chats for Cruise Critic, when it was on America Online (and the site and the internet were really in its infancy).

When Paul and Anne asked if I would write for CruiseMates I thought they were “Kukier” than me!  The experience has been a total delight!

They’ve always allowed me to be myself in my writings, without pretending to be a “real journalist”. I was always allowed to express my own honest opinions; without ever even a suggestion of censoring or censuring my thoughts on ships or cruise lines.

My intent was to always attempt to share the cruise experience, and the experience of community which somehow bonds cruisers together, no matter which cruise lines they preferred.

Eight years ago, I sold my business interests, and retired from the “work-a-day” world, but kept my position with CruiseMates because it always brought so much fun, and so many great people into my life.  Through CruiseMates and cruising I’ve had the good fortune to make so many life long friends!

That’s one thing I’ve found to be an amazing attribute of the cruise community;  the willingness of cruisers to not just be friendly, but to truly become friends!

I have a mind full,  if not overflowing, of incredible cruise memories; of the places I’ve been so lucky to travel to on cruises; of the foolish but fun things we got to do with our cruisemates on our 60+ cruises; of the roll on the floor laughter we got to share with so many people while at sea; and of the genuine joy one can experience by being onboard.

However, I believe now it is time for me to take a step to the side from writing  for CruiseMates. Mrs. Kuki and I have become snowbirds, and it seems the right time to spend some time just enjoying that change in lifestyle for awhile.

I have no doubt there will still be cruises in our future, but I’ll step aside from feeling the need to be watching the developments in the industry so closely. I’ll still be around to visit with all our friends on the CruiseMates forums, and will continue to try and share from whatever experience I have.

I would be remiss to not thank Paul Motter and CruiseMates for all the wonderful memories and opportunities my position here provided me. And, even more importantly, to thank all of you who have read my ramblings over this past 15 years. I’ve always been appreciative and amazed that people would read what I wrote!

- A Final View From The Kuki Side of Cruising -

Posted: October 29th, 2014 under Kuki.
Comments: 9

A Taste

Written by: Kuki

Cruising is in fact one facet of the travel and tourism industry which ranks amongst the highest in satisfaction ratings from past clients.

Though, naturally, it is not without complaints.

One of the most common complaints is lack of time in port. Time in port is generally dictated by the proximity of the ports of call on any particular itinerary. Other factors can include the availability of space for ships at the pier.

For example, on European itineraries, where travel time to and from popular sights are time consuming, and ports of call are close ships may stay later into the night, and on occasion overnight at select ports (as often happens in Venice).

Of late the ultra-premium and luxury cruise lines have begun concentrating on offering more overnight stays for their ships, with less days at sea during their planned itineraries.

Yet, even with overnight stays, in most cases the longest time you’ll have during any port stop is perhaps 32-35 hrs. On many cruises your port visit is limited to 10-12 hrs.

Some who consider themselves “travelers”, who desire more detailed experiences in the surroundings, civilizations, and cultures of the areas they visit, are left somewhat dissatisfied.

It’s easy to understand, and even agree with that type of complaint.

Yet, cruising is still attractive because there is no way I can think of which allows you to visit as many places in a relatively short amount of time, and in supreme comfort, with so little effort.

To attempt to do it by any other means, entails devoting more time in one place, more transportation planning, or organized land tours via buses, trains, etc. which offer other limitations (like packing and unpacking daily or regularly).

With cruising, once you are onboard, you’re in your “home”. You unpack your luggage, make your cabin and ship your home. Cruising is the only mode of travel that transports your home, as well as you, with someone else (the Captain and crew) in charge of getting you to your destinations comfortably.

And during your “down travel time” you’re food and entertainment options offer a virtual cornucopia of choices.

Rather than looking at the limitations of travel by ship, I have always viewed cruising as offering an appetizer sized version of what’s available in the ports of call you visit.

I’ve always thought that by getting a “taste” of the various ports I would visit,  I could go back for longer stays in the places that really peeked my interest. And over the years I have done so.

But, you know what? I’ve found I can often truly enjoy making a “full meal”  solely out of a combination of a variety of appetizers, and be just as satisfied without having a full entrée.

Posted: October 14th, 2014 under Kuki.
Comments: 1

Things You Can Do Right

Written by: Kuki

Over my years at CruiseMates I’ve written many advice columns about how you, and your attitude, contribute to how well you enjoy your cruise experience.

This week I thought I would attempt to get to some of the very basics that will help lay a foundation for a successful cruise.

#1 – The most important matter to deal with to assure yourself a great time is to actually book a cruise. It’s very easy to talk about going, and dream about going, but to best contribute to your enjoying it is to actually book one.

#2 – Once #1 is dealt with, it’s important to get to the ship before it sails. Probably of equal importance is making sure you get to the right ship. That involves knowing where the ship sails from and the name of the ship. Planning ahead for issues like transportation to the port city, and to the port is essential to making it all happen.

#3 – Make certain you have documentation complete, and having identification with you to get onboard is also essential. Having someone else’s identification with you, will only lead to disappointment. Before you leave for your cruise, look in the mirror and the picture on your identification to verify it is you. Have anyone traveling with you do the same.

#4 – If you have found any of the advice offered in numbers 1,2 & 3 helpful you probably won’t make it onboard the ship anyhow.  However, if you do, one of the most important things to insure having a good cruise is to find the correct cabin.  This can get a bit tricky for some, as the cabin numbers are not printed on the cabin keys they give you. But, somewhere in your documentation the cabin number will be listed.  Check your identification against your documentation to make certain it’s you, then you can ask the staff for assistance in finding your cabin.

Once again, if you’ve found any of the advice offered helpful, don’t rely on simply asking staff for directions to your cabin. There’s little doubt that trek won’t be successful.  Request a staff member lead you to the correct cabin.

#5 – Once you’ve unpacked, and are ready to leave the cabin to check out the ship, or go to dinner, etc. You can’t get out through the bathroom, or the closet. Just ignore the Do Not Disturb sign hanging on the door, and exit that way.

#6 – I have to admit, even after multiple cruises, I find it easy to get lost onboard. But, there is some good news in this regard. Unlike on land in a big city, whichever direction you go when leaving your cabin, you can only go as far as the ship extends in any direction. You will be forced to turn around much sooner than if you were in a city.

#7 -

Posted: October 7th, 2014 under Kuki.
Comments: none

I’m All In For Dining Options

Written by: Kuki

The very first “alternate” restaurant on board a ship that I recall hearing about was in 2000, just prior to the arrival of the Costa Atlantica into the United States.

At the time I was aghast, when I learned they would be charging an extra fee for those who wanted to dine there. At that time food – and as much of it as you wanted to eat – had always been included in the fare, as far I knew.  In fact the food was one of the most highly promoted reasons given to cruise, or at least a reason promoted to choose one cruise line over another.

How could they have the nerve to charge extra for food?…. I thought They are going to intentionally reduce the quality of the food outlets that are included in the fare, to drive business to the alternate restaurant… I thought.

Fast forward 13 years and I don’t know of a major cruise line which doesn’t offer at the very minimum of one alternate dining venue on their ships, on top of their dining room and buffet areas. In fact it’s much more the norm that a ship has at least 3 or 4 alternate venues; and on some, that number is now up to 20 dining venue choices.

Initially the alternate dining venues were mostly of the “fine dining” variety. The idea was serve food cooked a la minute (as it’s ordered) combined  with some table-side preparation, and charge a small extra fee. If memory serves, the alternate restaurant I first experienced on the Costa Atlantica was $5 or $10. In the 13 years since the surcharge for the “fine dining” alternate restaurants has risen more into the ranges of $30-$40.

I do admit my initial reaction to the idea of a surcharge for an alternate restaurant was less than positive. It was simple really; at that time the food on every cruise I had been on was quite acceptable, and in many cases quite good indeed.

Since that time in 2001 the cruise industry has suffered many challenges; from the attacks of 9/11, then the economic collapse in 2008, which led to the lowering of the cost of cruising to fill ships, and with that budgetary demands came cost cutting, including food budgets. They simply had to spend less per day per passenger for food. Some cruise lines managed those demands better than others, no doubt using all the creativity they could come up with to retain some semblance of quality.

In the time since there have been some noticeable ebbs and flows in customer’s opinions of which cruise lines food is better or worse at any given time. But frankly, for the cost of a cruise I believe all the majors have done a reasonably good job of making all the foods they offer quite satisfactory. This despite the fact cruise fares are currently near record lows.

During this space of time, aside from cruise fares, the cruise lines have also been finding any means they think feasible for increasing on board spending. Some people have called parts of these plans “nickel and diming”, but as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, I just call it math. It makes sense as a business plan to attempt to have users pay for optional amenities on the ship in an attempt to balance out the low cruise fares.

Aside from many of the “little things”, the results of these initiatives have brought specialty coffee bars on pretty much every ship, drink packages, special slight adjustments for increasing some costs on some cabin categories, etc,

During this time there’s also been a move to making these ships more resort like… and a major development towards that goal is more alternate restaurants.

In my view Norwegian Cruise Line has led the parade since they launched their “Free Style Cruising” initiative. And as they’ve added new builds to their folio they’ve continued to lead the way.

I believe the key to their success (and why I think they are still in the lead) is that they’ve combined a mix of alternate restaurants which are included in the cruise fare, as well as those which cost extra.

The combination of more choice in what is deemed acceptable cruise attire, with the choice of dining options, has made the limited spaces of a ship, at least seem like similar choices people have on land based vacations or at resorts. And certainly that is what the vast majority of the public have much more personal experience with, so might naturally find more attractive.

For Norwegian Cruise Line it has worked out very well, and that’s been fortunate because in my experience their dining room food didn’t really compete well on it’s own when judged against its competition. Though they recently announced their intention to upgrade their concentration and efforts to improve their food offerings in ALL dining venues onboard.

The other cruise lines have taken notice of this for quite some time, and have joined the movement to offering choices well past just a fine dining restaurant at an extra cost.

And I believe I have become a part of the majority who have fallen for the idea of options and choices.

Another seemingly significant growing trend I have noticed while reading many cruise reviews, reports and posts on our message boards is more and more people having dinner in the ship’s buffet restaurants, and skipping the dining rooms and alternate dining venues almost entirely. This is likely due in part to the overall popular trend of people choosing to make their overall cruise experience more casual, as well as lack of having to make reservations, or wait in line; ship’s buffet restaurants are always quite large, and easy to find space most times in the evening.

No doubt there are still cruisers who prefer the more traditional approach, and those who sail today who will have dinner only in the ship’s dining rooms.

Me, I’m all in for the choices and variety.

- A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising -

Posted: October 1st, 2014 under Kuki.
Comments: 6

Wowed By Technology

Written by: Kuki

Just the other day I had 3 guys with a big truck come to my house to cart away my 65 ” rear projection cabinet television, that must have weighed 400 lbs.

As I sat on my front deck watching them struggle to get this monstrosity through the front door, I thought about how technology has changed all our lives, in such a short time. And it has changed my life in incredible ways despite the fact I am technologically challenged

I also thought…what a dummy I was, as at one time I had paid over $6000 just to have a huge television.

At the time, anything under 140 characters was graffiti on the sides of buildings, or in greeting cards.

It may come as somewhat of a surprise that someone who has been writing for an Internet based web site for 15 years doesn’t know a thing about the technology. But, I was after-all, concentrating my efforts on writing about one topic – cruising. I was provided access to the software which allowed me to do my job with minimal knowledge of the technological aspects of it, and I went on my merry way, writing my thoughts about cruising.

At the time most of the cruise lines didn’t even have a web page. And if they did, they were most basic in both nature and function. From booking to onboard schedules and activities every aspect was compartmentalized, and had a paper trail done at least in triplicate. Even onboard ships, communications between the ships and their home offices were done through radio rooms, and eventually faxes. And I’m not talking about ancient history here, but only 15 or so years ago.

On my very first cruise, I recall, there was not even a telephone in our cabin. Today, pretty much every cabin is equipped with it’s own direct Wi-Fi service, and pretty much ever passenger has their own device with them to use for access.

Yes, today, like the majority of folks I carry a tablet, and my smart phone when cruising. I can be in constant communication with the rest of the world from almost anywhere in the world . Though at home I do still have a rotary dial phone (that likely anyone born in the 21st century wouldn’t be able to figure out how it works).

I honestly don’t lament and pine for the “old days” or the “old ways”. Technological advances has made it simpler and more efficient for all of us, including cruise lines and passengers.  Everything from communication, organization, planning and onboard life has been made as easy as if on land. And no doubt these things will continue to advance. Later this year Royal Caribbean is bringing out Quantum of the Seas, which they are calling a “smart ship”". The implication, of course, is that the ship is going to change your cruise life as much as your  smart phone did your life on land.

It all WOWS and amazes me!  Why, just the other day a 20 something pointed out to me that thanks to Apple, we no longer have to take our cell phones out of our pocket to see what time it is. Now if you’ve got the new iWatch you just have to look at your wrist.

And I was recently told by a “techie” that soon the tech companies will be coming out with eye  wear that will allow you to see the people around you,  complete with a device attached to your  eyes (the iBrain), which initiates a series of actions through your lips, allowing you to talk to them too.

- A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising -

Posted: September 23rd, 2014 under Kuki.
Comments: none

Cruise Ship’s Personalities

Written by: Kuki

With assistance from cruise line’s previous marketing campaigns and word of mouth from their friends and neighbors, many people view cruising through mental images of fine dining, fancy dress, lively fun on sun decks, and Las Vegas style floor shows.

Today’s cruise industry is much more complex than that; cruising today has multiple personalities.

Through the 1990s and into the early 21st Century, outside of differences in decor, and some minor differences in onboard programming, it could have seemed that one cruise on a cruise line would be very similar to a cruise on any other line. Though there were a few small niche cruise lines,  variations were basically  budget cruises, mass market cruises, and luxury cruises. The major factor separating them; price (and presumably upgraded service and food to match).

 The pricing categories remain similar today, though the industry may have branded them with new verbiage, sneaking “premium” and “ultra-premium” into the mix, while mass market lines are now referred to as “contemporary”.

Today however the variances in cruise lines are much more clearly established. Plus I think the cruise lines have become ”fleat of fleet” enough to change ships within their line to adapt to the “cruise personalities” passengers are looking for.

The most dominant personality in the industry at this time seems to be the “cruise vacationer”. And the “cruise vacationer” generally favor itineraries cruising in the Caribbean. Caribbean cruisers goal is to simply relax. The want to spend their vacations enjoying the ship’s amenities; relaxing time on sun decks, umbrella drinks, lots of culinary choices, and plenty of live entertainment (particularly in the evenings).

In ports of call they are mostly interested in spending times on beautiful beaches, some sight-seeing, shopping, perhaps some adrenaline inducing activities like zip-lining, jet-skiing, para-sailing, etc. They want a vacation, rather than having a desire to travel. They want something similar to a resort style vacation, but with a little more adventure. And honestly the cruise lines do an outstanding job of meeting those demands throughout the Caribbean, and to a lesser extent the Mexican Riviera.

Then there are “the travelers”. Other than perhaps a first time visit to the islands in the Caribbean, the travelers aren’t going to happy with a Caribbean cruise. Travelers want to see the world, experience different cultures and sights. This is a very fast growing sector of the cruise industry, and all of the cruise lines have reacted by redeploying ships all over the globe to meet the demand. Where a few niche lines, or the smaller ships of the luxury lines used to be some of the only options on many more exotic itineraries, today all categories of the industry are allowing the travelers many more choices in this area. With an eye to the interests of the travelers most cruise lines in areas around the globe are designing very port intensive itineraries. If it’s not a different port almost every day, then they are offering itineraries with more overnights in ports of call; something you rarely see on a Caribbean sailing.

Onboard activities as well as entertainment are also addressed differently on the cruises where the majority of passengers are likely more interested in the next port of call, than a late night comedian.

The “cruise traveler” is still quite different from the “world traveler”. It’s not that they don’t have the same wandering spirit, as they probably do. But for a variety of reason, they are willing to give up some of their wanderlust in favor of more secure and less stressful travel; still being able to return to the creature comforts and luxuries a cruise ship has to offer after day of exploring another port. As you often find the demographic on more exotic itineraries a bit on the older side, I’m guessing many of the people were world travelers, who may now find themselves with less physical abilities to endure the riggers of the “world cruiser” they used to be, yet still have the urge to travel, see more, and learn more. And cruising certainly eases most of the burden, while still fulfilling the urge.

While the cruise lines have moved ships to further reaches of the world, there has also been a concerted effort by them to attract the local populations in those areas. The Europeans are a fast growing segment of the cruise industry, as are the populations from China, Australia, and even South America.

  Where their choices to cruise closer to home were quite limited, today they have more variety in cruise lines sailing close to their homes than sail the Caribbean waters at certain times of year. For example,  more major cruise lines moving ships to Australia, and ships homeporting in Dubai. It’s no longer just ships sailing around the globe. It is a true globalization of the cruise industry. It also holds true that the ” cruise travelers” demographic meshes well with the locals boarding the ships in these distant areas, as they appreciate the oppurtunity to experience the different cultures blend together onboard.

Taking the traveler personality a step  further are the adventure/explorer cruise lines. These sailings are on smaller ships (in some cases less than 100 passengers) which venture into waters larger ships simply cannot go. They specialize in providing passengers with very up close, intimate experiences with the nature and wildlife of the areas they visit, such as Antartica and the less traveled inlets of Alaska. These lines are more attractive to those who might normally fit in the “world traveler” category, as in many cases they will take those passengers to areas and sights which are almost unreachable by land. They will also attract a mix of the “cruise travelers” who are willing to give up a few of the creature comforts of standard cruise ships to step into a more adventurous experience.

Currently the most “IN” category in cruising is River Cruising. Though River Cruisiing has been around for some time, the recent surge by River Cruise companies to add many more new ships to their fleets is working effectively to draw more interest.  They’ve been adding many modern amentities more familiar to those who have to this point experienced more typical cruising. Their main attraction is they travel slowly down rivers, allowing passengers to view places they would never visit on larger cruise ships. They also generally dock in the center of towns and cities they visit, and include tours of the areas in their fares. While I don’t believe they presently have much attraction for first time cruisers, they are certainly drawing “cruise travelers” who are interested in a more personal experience of the cultures within the areas they can access by river cruise, as well as the “world travelers”, giving them ease of access which would be much more limited by land travel.

Certainly all of these cruise personalities, combined with a few even more niche cruise alternatives, such as sailing ships, and barge cruising have expanded the selection and choices to enable you to match your personality with the personality of the cruise.

- A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising -

Posted: September 16th, 2014 under Kuki.
Comments: none

Why Teens Should Cruise

Written by: Kuki

A few weeks ago I wrote about why seniors should cruise. Clearly, being a senior I am much more familiar with that situation than I am teens.

But, honestly I was a teen once. And when my sons were teens, I know they loved cruising, and I think I may know why.

#1 – The very best thing about cruising when you are a teenager is someone else is paying. Whether it is your parents, or grandparents who are paying, it’s not really any more relevant to you than most anything they say to you when you’re that age.

However, it’s best to be really nice to them prior to the cruise, so they’ll get you (and the friend you’ve convinced them to take along) your own cabin.

#2 – Food is an integral part of the cruise experience for adults and teens alike; though probably for different reasons. For teens, the fact that pretty much every ship has a grill somewhere near the pool is the bonus for those teen appetites. For some reason teen metabolisms are such that you can almost eat whatever you want, and not gain weight (I used to be like that, but I’ve been adding a pound on each birthday since – no matter who’s birthday it is –  so be prepared).

While the grills are great for burgers etc. during the night, there are pizzerias for a slice at night with your friends, and if you followed my advice and got your own cabin, the ship’s 24 hr. room service is perfect for snacks in the middle of the night.

If you’re wise, and ever want to go on a cruise again while you’re still a teen, I recommend having dinners in the dining room with your family.

# 3 - Entertainment on ships offers great variety normally. Aside from most ships having teen clubs designed specifically with programs for you and other kids your age, every ship has a specific gathering place between every deck, just for you and all the other teens you meet onboard to hang out.  Don’t let any of the adults convince you  those are stairwells.

# 4- Communications on ships have improved greatly since the days I took my teens on cruises.  Today you can post to all your social media sites easily, even if the only electronics you take onboard is your smartphone. Just like your parents, you can stay in constant touch, assuming everyone you know needs to know where you are and what you’re doing every minute… just like at home.

If you don’t ever want to cruise again, you can call or text everyone at home as well, for as long as you like. No one will know until your family gets their cell phone bills.

#5 – Unless your family has chosen the absolutely wrong ship, you’ll find lots of other teens onboard.

If you can convince the family to cruise over the holidays (like Christmas) there could be more teens onboard than adults. And, even if there isn’t, it will feel like there is to the adults.

#6 – Freedom! In my experience on cruise ships parents pretty much give their teens permission to do anything they want to, whenever they want to… as long as they show up for dinners with the family.  Just let them know that if they are looking for you they should just check all the glass elevators, and eventually they’ll bump into you when the doors open.

 Perhaps I should stop with 6 reasons for teens to cruise. If I list all 10 reasons your families may think better of ever taking you on a cruise.

- A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising -

Posted: September 9th, 2014 under Kuki.
Comments: none

Finding The (Illusive) Great Travel Agent

Written by: Kuki

Over the years,in  every article I  ever wrote about choosing a cruise, or booking a cruise, I’ve recommended talking to, and booking with a travel agent; preferably one who specializes in cruises.

In my view, the alternative – booking directly with a cruise line – is the least desirable option available.

So, many times I’ve been asked the million dollar question ; how do I find that “great travel agent”? The answer is, there is no easy answer.

There is one thing about the business of travel agents that makes me crazy. That is, there is no governing body, other than the law of the land, which has any type of authority of  oversight of travel agents, or for that matter cruise lines.

There is an industry group that the vast majority of cruise travel agents and agencies are members of, called CLIA (Cruise Line Industry Association), which does offer some training and accreditation.

Though this organization is essentially a promotional, marketing and lobbying group for the cruise industry, finding a travel agent who has been granted the CLIA accreditation means they have met at least some minimal training standards. In many cases sales representatives for the cruise lines, may have never even been on a ship. And furthermore, if they have, it’s highly unlikely they have been on a ship other than those of the line they are selling for.

The business of travel agents has changed quite significantly over the past decade or so, and like many industries in that time frame much of the change has to do with advances in technology. The technological advances have changed the business model of most travel agencies.

Independent owner operated travel agencies do still exist, but are rare. Most have, at the very least joined a consortia. Consortia were originally formed to associate numerous independent agencies in order to improve their “buying power”; their ability to negotiate better pricing, and “preferred supplier” status with cruise lines, tour operators, etc.

The most significant change to the travel agent industry in recent years, due to, or because of technology,  is the rise in the number of home based travel agents. They may simply be hosted by a travel agency, or they may be part of a consortium, or the fastest growing segment; they become franchisees. Being a travel agent  through any of these relationships does not, in and of itself, make the individuals good or bad travel agents.

One can purchase a franchise for anywhere from $500 to $3000, and once accepted those franchisees may refer to themselves as independent operators. Some of those franchisees may still open brick and mortar stores from which to operate, but the majority are home-based agents. This offers no negative commentary on that situation. It’s just something I believe the consumer should be aware of.

Technology allows these travel agents to be just as effective as those in large store front travel agencies, while at the same time saving operating costs.

For a time only large Internet based agencies dominated sales via the internet.  Today the very vast majority of all types of travel agents have a “web presence”.  All of the consortia, and all of the franchise operations have developed web sites, to allow their associates to sell and market their services. To varying degrees, they have also all developed software and support systems to improve the abilities of their associates to further develop their business.

Before all these advances, there was a time when the large Internet based travel agencies were beginning to dominate the  smaller independent operators, so the cruise lines were lobbied to create “flat pricing policies”; forcing all travel agencies to sell cruises for the same price as what the cruise lines themselves were pricing the cruise at. This was their attempt to level the playing field for everyone selling their cruises.

Though, in theory these policies are still in place, when pricing out cruises today, you’ll find those flat pricing policies are not necessarily fact,, or enforced. In other words, as a consumer you still need to price shop, and not just assume you are getting the best price you can everywhere.

There are factors affecting that. Some travel agents are still find ways to rebate from their commissions, to offer their customers a better price. Though against “the rules” it is being done, perhaps more imaginatively than direct price discounting. There are also things the cruise lines themselves do which offers such things as preferred supplier status, overrides, etc. which  can have an effect on the travel agents bottom lines.

Some of these “industry secrets” do bother me somewhat. I believe the travel agents are certainly entitled to make a living, and be paid for their work. I do however encourage more transparency from them.

When choosing a travel agent my suggestion is to always interview them, and not just get a price quote. You are hiring someone to work for you! Even if you have no experience of ever hiring anyone to work you, with regard to choosing a travel agent, you are your own HR department.

You are hiring someone to work for you, take care of your interests,  and will be in a position to handle your money. Take the challenge seriously when making that decision. Ask questions, not just about the cruise and price they can offer.

Unfortunately, you may end up “kissing a few frogs” before you find your travel prince or princess. And, unfortunately neither the cruise lines, the consortia, or the franchisors will take any serious action to assist  towards correcting the actions of those “frogs” you encounter.

But, when you find your travel agent prince or princess, you’ll know it! When you do, be open and loyal, and nurture that relationship. Don’t leave them because you found somewhere else to save $50. It could cost you much more in the long run if you chose another “frog”.

- A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising -

Posted: September 2nd, 2014 under Kuki.
Comments: none

It’s Great To Celebrate On A Cruise

Written by: Kuki

Thankfully during the course of our lives we have many life events we celebrate. The celebration of many of those life events are easily arranged and enjoyed on cruise ships.

Birthdays are a great reason to celebrate. They occur every year, so we’re supplied with an annual reason to indulge ourselves. To celebrate you can go out for dinner with friends, or arrange to surprise your friend, spouse or family member (or try to) with some form of birthday party. Or you can plan ahead, and get your family or friends to go on a cruise, and let the entire duration of the cruise be your celebration. You tell me- - what’s better a party for a couple of hours, or a week on a ship?

Personally. I’d give up all the gifts in exchange for a week long party. Heck, I’m willing to celebrate the birthdays of people I don’t even like if it means I get to go on a cruise.

I particularly enjoy celebrating the birthdays of my children on cruises. ( note -I highly recommend leaving the children at home with their grandparents or other family members, and celebrating their birthdays at sea without them present).

Getting married on ships, or in ports of call, is a growing segment of the celebratory cruise market. There are plenty  of options to choose from. And making the arrangements can be accomplished relatively smoothly. You can use wedding planners who specialize in cruise ship weddings, and work with the cruise lines directly to ensure your onboard marriage ceremony goes smoothly, or work directly with the cruise lines. Both ways allow those getting married and their guests to relax and enjoy it. There’s presently many ships with wedding chapels on board, and many that will allow the Captain to officiate as you say your vows.

You can even arrange to have your wedding in port, before the ship embarks on it’s voyage, and have family and friends come on board to enjoy the wedding, even if they are not cruising with you.

Wedding in ports of call are slightly more difficult to arrange, though with a bit of research it’s easy to find companies in almost every port of call that will make all the arrangements for you. The only danger is if weather conditions, or other unforeseen circumstances cause the  ship to skip its scheduled visit to that port.

The advantage, of course, if that circumstance happens to occur, is both the bride and groom get extra time to realize that marriage to that person would be a terrible mistake, and have time to arrange for separate cabins for the duration of the cruise, and back out. From someone who has, to this point, been married for 32 years,,  marriage is not all that’s it’s cracked up to be. (I don’t mean that honey… if you’re reading this).

Which leads me to the next great occasion to celebrate at sea; anniversaries.

Every week on ships, there are couples renewing their wedding vows, for their anniversary celebration.  It’s very romantic to stand and restate your love for each other while at sea. Mrs. Kuki and I have chosen not to try this option yet, as we’re both not so sure we’d say yes again. If you’re planning to avail yourselves of this option, it is best to discuss it first, so there’s no surprise in the end result.

Though I haven’t had the pleasure of trying it, cruise ships are also a great place to go to celebrate a divorce. If the divorce is amicable, you can even go on the cruise with your ex spouse. This has in fact occurred in the past, where a divorced couple go on a cruise, and after mixing alcohol into the celebration, make the same mistake, and get remarried. Those situations aren’t that bad because they create another reason to cruise the next time they divorce.

Celebrating your children’s graduations with the gift of a cruise is another excellent idea. The generosity of such a gift is rarely overlooked. I do however recommend doing so for early graduations, like kindergarden or  elementary school, because doing so for things like college graduations (where the children are old enough to legally consume alcohol) easily drive up the total costs of your gift.

If you do it when they are younger, you can remind them for years, while they are growing up, how generous you were with their graduation gift.

A celebratory cruise upon retirement is an exceptional option as well. After all those years of working hard you’re finally able to treat yourself to relaxing, romantic, and adventure traveling, all in one wonderful package; a cruise.  It’s a particularly good reason to cruise if ,after all the other celebratory cruises I’ve mentioned previously, you have any money left. You’re celebrating surviving all the other “life events” without going broke.

- A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising -

Posted: August 26th, 2014 under Kuki.
Comments: none

Why Seniors Should Cruise

Written by: Kuki

Before anyone gets up in arms accusing me of ageism ( before even reading this piece).  And prior to the ”Grey Army”  being given its marching orders, to rebut  me full force,  I want to make it clear, I am myself a senior.

I’m one of you;  a card carrying member of AARP.

My hair is fully white-grey, and I wake up every day with a different part of my body hurting. So, as “one of you” I want to offer you 10 good reasons for seniors  to cruise, if in reasonably good health.

- #1 – There’s not many places we can vacation with so many public washrooms close by. And if your need happens to be urgent when you’re on Lido Deck, several hot tubs are usually near.

- #2 – Passenger deck hallways are significantly narrower on cruise ships than they are in hotels.  This makes it much harder for us to tip over. There may be some minor bruising from bumping into walls, but we  need less people nearby to help us get up.

# 3 – I do recommend cabins with private balconies for seniors. Interior, or even ocean view cabins can be problematic, as senior’s flatulence can be devastating.

- #4 – The toilets in the cabins on a ship are excellent for seniors. If we are having one of those days where it’s just a bit difficult to do our duty, we just have to sit on the toilet and flush. They  will suck it out of us.

- #5 – Entertainment on cruise ships is generally very good, and varied. For seniors, perhaps the best (if unexpected) entertainment is finding one’s cabin. We can easily while away hours each day trying our key in cabin doors on the wrong deck.

Another entertainment form for seniors is spending time at the Guest Relations Desk, voicing complaints, real or imagined. This experience provides us with excellent opportunities for social interaction if we aren’t travelling with a group.

- # 6 -  During ports of call shore excursions present a simple and easy means for seniors to explore the area. They also are designed in such a way as the seniors are easily able to control the pace of the tour to ensure their enjoyment.

If you feel the tour you’ve chosen is leaving too early, you can disembark the ship, board your assigned bus, and then tell them you’ve left some necessary medication in your cabin. You can then return to the ship, and  go enjoy a leisurely breakfast, before returning to your bus to begin your tour.

While visiting a particular site on a tour, if the tour has not allowed ample time for sovernir shopping on their schedule, one can feel free to make time to touch every item in every nearby shop or kiosk. Everyone else on the tour will be happy to wait for you before departing.

- #7 – The dining experience on ships is also incredibly well suited to seniors. The service staff are generally very caring; very well trained, and experienced in dealing with seniors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve personally experienced service staff stopping by often, to ask me if anything is alright.

- # 8 – Cruise ships create a wonderful environment which often serves as a catalyst for romance for both young and old.  In the evenings you’ll often see young couples on a leisurely walk around the outside decks, holding hands and gazing at the moon and stars.  For seniors the experience can be very similar, though I recommend holding on to the railings instead of hands, and looking at where you’re walking instead of star gazing.

- #9 – A very nice touch for a relationship  is to renew your vows while on a cruise.  It is very easy to arrange to arrange this type of ceremony onboard, often with the ship’s Captain officiating.  The only difficulties you may encounter are remembering which person in attendance is your spouse, or if you start questioning yourself about why you married them originally.

- #10 – I did have 10 reasons when I started this piece, but… oh well… a senior moment.

- A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising -

Posted: August 19th, 2014 under Kuki.
Comments: 1