Author Archives: Susan Schaefer

There are 188 articles by Susan Schaefer published on this site.

“Those who see the world better understand the world; and when we better understand the world we can gain insights into ourselves and personally experience the transformative effects of travel. EXC is going to show our guests the world in a whole new way and enable them to engage in truly meaningful experiences.” Orlando Ashford, President, Holland America Line

Initially announced in December 2016, Holland America has released more information about their new Exploration Central concept as it premiers on the ms Westerdam in a few days. Exploration Central, or EXC for short, will be rolled out fleet wide by the end of 2018.

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Non-Refundable Deposits are Here to Stay

Often one cruise line will test a new idea and, if it flies, other cruise lines will follow suite in short order. Disney Cruise Line spearheaded family friendly cruising. Now you can find Nickelodeon and Universal partnered with other cruise lines, water splash areas, water slides to die for, and family-friendly staterooms on other ships. Norwegian Cruise Line introduced Freestyle Dining, and now everyone has some form of open dining program. Someone raises their gratuity amounts? Others follow suit within months.

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With little fanfare, Royal Caribbean rolled out new enhancements to their pre-cruise planning tool involving Onboard Credit redemption. Up until recently clients did not have the option to spend Onboard Credit funds before boarding their cruise. According to Royal Caribbean, new “system enhancements now grant your clients the ability to allocate their promotional and option code driven Onboard Credits towards desired purchases pre-cruise, giving your clients the ability to plan ahead and to better arrange their vacation activities/purchases in advance.”

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The Nickel-And-Dime Conundrum

It is probably the biggest complaint we hear from clients about cruising; they feel like they are “nickeled and dimed” by the cruise lines. On most cruise lines you have to pay for sodas by the drink or through a soda package. Specialty dining involves additional fees. And then there’s the pressure to pay for spa treatments, buy excursions, pay to play Bingo, etc. We can warn clients and try to prepare them for what to expect, yet they still return and complain about all of the charges they incurred on their stateroom account. Read the rest of this entry »

Ships Are Getting Edgier

This week saw the reveal of Celebrity’s newest ship, Celebrity Edge, which will begin sailing the Eastern and Western Caribbean starting in December 2018.

What’s new about the Celebrity Edge?  It’s hard to decide where to start with the new innovations that Celebrity is rolling out with this ship.


Celebrity has added two new suite categories to the Celebrity Edge; Edge Villas and Iconic Suites.  The Edge Villas are the first split level suites in the Celebrity fleet.  Their sister company Royal Caribbean International introduced split level suites with their Oasis Class ships, but Celebrity Edge takes it one step further.  There will be six of these two story suites on the ship, with a total of 950 square feet of indoor and outdoor space.  The villas consist of one bedroom and two bathrooms, personal butler service and accommodate up to four guests.  Unique to the Edge Villas are the three foot deep plunge pools.

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Changing Up the Categories

It seems that Royal Caribbean is taking a page out of the Sandals’ book.  Sandals and Beaches resorts have always had so many confusing room categories that it boggles the mind.   It’s enough to confuse consumers and travel agents alike.  In Sandals training they like to say that it’s a good thing, because it pushes confused consumers to travel agents to help pick the right room.

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Royal Caribbean Updates Group Policy

Onboard the Harmony of the Seas pre-inaugural sailing, Vicki Freed alluded that changes in Royal Caribbean’s group policy were forthcoming. At the time she didn’t have a timeline. In the past week, Royal Caribbean announced changes that will take effect on January 1, 2018. Although it’s not customary for cruise lines to give us a 10 month head’s up on policy changes, this is a major change and Royal Caribbean is making sure their travel partners are given plenty of time to adjust to the new policy. Read the rest of this entry »

Promoting Days at Sea

Do you have clients that get caught up in analyzing cruise itineraries, and are concerned about “too many” days at sea? Days at sea get a bad rap. I find this happens mostly with new cruisers who aren’t familiar with days at sea. Many neophytes think days at sea will be boring. This is where we hear the worry about being “stuck” on a ship with no escape. The majority of my seasoned cruisers appreciate days at sea as a form of relaxation between their activity-packed port days. It’s a matter of educating the unexperienced cruisers so they will also appreciate their days at sea. Read the rest of this entry »

River Cruising in the U.S.

River cruising is a great product for travel consultants to sell for so many reasons. River cruises are great for our clients that have exhausted the ocean cruise itineraries, without dipping into the longer itineraries of 30 nights or longer. They’re also a great alternative for the client that is worried about motion sickness. Like the Alaska inside passage, river cruises are operating in waterways that aren’t subjected to significant wave action, reducing the feeling of movement. And then there are the itineraries. Read the rest of this entry »

Land or Sea? Why Not Both?

How many times have we heard clients struggle with the decision between picking a cruise or a land-based vacation? Why can’t they do both in the same vacation? There are some decision points that will determine if both, aka a cruise tour, is feasible. As the professional, this is where you can add so much value to their experience.

With the exception of Alaska many clients aren’t aware that land options can be added to just about any cruise itinerary offered. Alaska cruise tours are well promoted by the cruise lines; but I would surmise the majority of clients aren’t aware of the cruise tour options in Europe, New England / Canada, Asia, South America, etc. And if a cruise line doesn’t offer the cruise tour experience that a client wants, their travel professional (aka YOU) can create it for them. Read the rest of this entry »

To Passport or Not to Passport? That is the Question

It’s inevitable that you’ll have a client question whether they really need to have a passport to cruise.  When the itinerary sails between two cities (not returning to the original port of embarkation) it’s an easy answer:  yes.  If they research it themselves, they won’t find an alternative answer.

The problem arises when we are discussing a closed-loop itinerary out of a US port.  No, for now a passport isn’t required, but it is strongly recommended.  That is when we get the pushback.  If it’s not required, why should they spend $125 per person to get one?  Especially when you’d working with a family of six, the cost of getting passports can significantly impact their travel budget. Read the rest of this entry »

Foodies and Cruises

Selling cruises based on food quality can be dicey.  If you make the wrong recommendation to a client that’s a true “foodie”, you may lose their future business.  So how do you counsel a client that is laser-focused on food?  Besides carefully qualifying your client, you also need to set their expectations.

Food quality is not consistent, either on cruise ships or on land.  They can receive a bad shipment that can affect the quality of the food served for the week.  A chef can have a bad night.  In other words, stuff can go wrong which affects food quality.  I’ve had clients get off a cruise raving about the food on the cruise.  However, other clients getting off the same exact cruise have complained that the food was sub-par.  They were on the same ship at the same exact time, and their food experiences were diametrically opposed.  Without grilling the clients, it’s hard to ascertain what happened.  Did they order the same things?  Did they eat in any of the specialty restaurants?  But most importantly, what were their expectations before they boarded the ship? Read the rest of this entry »

Too Many Promotions to Track

Wave season is in full swing, and we’re getting buried under supplier emails with wave season offers.  The cruise lines seemingly have moved away from sending out ONE wave season promotion (usually emailed to travel partners before the onslaught of booking requests started).  It feels like multiple wave season offers are coming out weekly, with some new incentive; either incentivizing travel agents (book more, enter to win an iPad Air 2) or incentivizing clients ($25 deposits or 50% off deposits, discounts off cruise fares, onboard amenity offers, etc.).  How do you keep up? Read the rest of this entry »

Poof, They Are Gone

It can come as a surprise when a cruise line (or two) closes up shop, cancelling future cruises, and stranding current cruise passengers.  That is what recently happened with both Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery when their parent company (All Leisure Holidays Group) announced it was going out of business that day without any warning. Usually there are telltale signs, but not always.

We have had cruise companies shut down before; Cruise West comes to mind.  But travel agents had an inkling something was going on.  When commission checks aren’t sent in a timely manner, and calls about where the commissions are go unanswered, that’s usually our first clue.  When a supplier suddenly starts pushing for cash payments instead of credit card payments, when that hasn’t been a payment practice of theirs in the past, that raises huge red flags.  Clients who pay by credit card (not debit cards) have a recourse with the credit card company to get their money back.  Paying a supplier with cash is never a good idea. Read the rest of this entry »

Expanding Beyond the Typical Seven Night Cruise

Susan SchaeferLet’s face it, for most of us it’s easy booking your standard 7 night cruises in the Caribbean. We might sprinkle in a few Alaska or New England cruises, and maybe they’ll be longer than 7 nights. However, at the end of the day, we’re in a rut. Clients want a cruise, and they don’t know any better, so they ask for 7 nights in the Caribbean.

As travel advisors, how many of us actually consult with our clients and help them expand their horizons? Of course there are some clients that cannot get passports for various reasons, so they are limited to closed loop cruises out of the US, meaning the Caribbean, or round trip Alaska or New England cruises. But those clients are not in the majority. Most clients can get passports, or already have one. So what are we doing to educate them about their options? Read the rest of this entry »

Cuba Opportunities are Expanding

Susan SchaeferAlthough Fathom Cruises is being disbanded, cruising to Cuba is not going away. With the announcement about Fathom Cruises, Carnival Corporation emphasized that their other brands (i.e. Carnival Cruises, Princess Cruises, etc.) will be adding Cuba-focused itineraries in the near future. Additionally, other cruise lines have recently announced their own plans to include Cuba has a port of call in 2017.

With the limited information that has been released so far, Cuba itineraries will primarily include a port of call in Havana. At the present time itineraries do not look to be Cuba-exclusive with multiple Cuba ports of call (like the Fathom itineraries), but this can all change in the future.

Azamara Club Cruises has recently announced a 13-night itinerary departing Miami on March 21, 2017 which not only offers a stop in Havana, but an overnight stop in Havana. Billed as the Hemingway Hideaways itinerary, it also stops in Key West (a Hemingway requirement of course) and overnights in New Orleans for two nights. Read the rest of this entry »

The National Tour Association

There is no shortage of travel industry associations, many of which we are familiar with: the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA), the Travel Commerce Network Association (CCRA, formerly OSSN), the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), and the list goes on. However, one association that has been around longer than most may not be as familiar to you, and is worth taking the time to get to know.

They are the National Tour Association or NTA. To learn more at NTA we recently spoke with Morgan Maravich, the Manager of Industry and Member Engagement for NTA. Read the rest of this entry »

Feeling the Love

Susan SchaeferThis week, Dondra Ritzenthaler with Celebrity Cruise Lines was eager to announce the new loyalty rewards program they are rolling out.  In several webinars this week, Celebrity rolled out their new Celebrity Rewards program for travel agents.

Now, this isn’t necessarily new in the industry, but Celebrity is the first cruise line to offer this type of program.  In a nutshell, agents that enroll in the program will receive 500 reward points for every Celebrity booking that they book after January 1, 2017.  Once an agent earns 2,500 points, they can redeem it for $25 which will be sent to them in the form of a Celebrity Rewards MasterCard Plus.  The card is reloadable, so as you earn more points and redeem them (with 2,500 points being the minimum amount you can redeem) the money is simply loaded onto the card you have already been given. Read the rest of this entry »

Sometimes it takes time to develop a niche. Not every travel agent starts in the industry knowing immediately where they want to specialize. Wendy Dall, That Travel Lady, is one of those travel agents. We sat down recently with Wendy and talked to her about her entry into the world of travel, and how she finally honed in on her niche of romance travel.

Travel Research Online (TRO): How did you come to the decision to enter the travel industry?

Wendy Dall (WD): Prior to getting into travel I was an International Marketing Manager on the technology side. One company I worked for provided customer relationship manager systems for travel agents. I did my MBA in Denmark and lived in Europe for 13 years. I came to the United States in 2000 as the tech bubble burst, so when my first child was born in 2001 I decided to become a stay-at-home mom. At the age of 40 I had my second child, and five years later I was looking to return to the work force. That is when I decided to get into the travel industry. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rise and Fall of Fathom Cruises

Susan SchaeferWe first talked about the new Fathom Cruise line back in July 2015.  After launching their alternating itineraries to Cuba and the Dominican Republic less than eight months ago, Carnival Corporation has announced they will cease operations of Fathom Cruises in the summer of 2017, barely a year after they started sailing.

Carnival Corporation has not given up on Cuba, however, stating that they hope to announce Cuba sailings in the future on their other cruise lines.  They just will not continue to have a cruise line solely dedicated to “voluntourism” and social impact itineraries.  Instead, they will be looking to incorporate aspects of Fathom’s unique focus into other cruise lines and itineraries. Read the rest of this entry »

Harmony Has Arrived

Susan SchaeferRoyal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas has arrived in Florida.  After two 2-night pre-inaugural sailings, she is sailing out of Ft Lauderdale, alternating between western and eastern Caribbean itineraries.

If you are not familiar with pre-inaugural sailings, these are short outings typically put on for travel agents and the media.  This go ’round, Royal Caribbean also extended invitations to some of their Pinnacle status members of the Crown and Anchor Society.  The purpose of pre-inaugural sailings is to introduce new ships to those who will be selling it (travel agents) and hopefully promoting it (travel agents and the media).

In the past, pre-inaugural sailings were referred to as “a cruise to nowhere.”  But after recent changes, legally the cruise lines lost the ability to offer cruises to nowhere.  Fortunately, when you’re sailing out of Ft Lauderdale it’s easy enough to add in a short (six hour) port of call in Nassau to meet federal regulations.  I’m not sure how this will be worked around with pre-inaugurals out of the New York/New Jersey area; or if pre-inaugurals will even be offered out of those ports in the future. Read the rest of this entry »