Author Archives: Susan Schaefer

There are 195 articles by Susan Schaefer published on this site.


Booking 2020 Cruises in 2017

At this point, most major cruise lines have only released itineraries through April 2019. However, 2020 can be booked now for certain itineraries. For example, take Regent Seven Seas’ recently announced 2020 World Cruise. It starts in San Francisco (departing January 24, 2020) or Miami (departing January 6, 2020). The 131 night itinerary includes 6 continents, 30 countries, 66 ports of call,  3 oceans crossed, 11 seas cruised, 36 UNESCO World Heritage sites, 13 overnight stays, 330 free shore excursions to choose from, and 33,871 nautical miles sailed.

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Cruising Over the Holidays

The term “over the holidays” often conjures images of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, fireworks, champagne, and crazy cruise fares. The two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s Day are the two busiest, thus most expensive, times for cruising. But those aren’t the only holidays that people plan their vacations around. Of course there’s Thanksgiving, and Memorial Day and Labor Day are holiday weekends that bookend the busy summer season. Even this past 4th of July weekend is a perfect example.

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Eden Revealed

This week Celebrity Cruises revealed more about the new ship Celebrity Edge, specifically the area of the ship called Eden. The definition of Eden is “a place of pristine or abundant beauty; a state of perfect happiness or bliss;  paradise.” Celebrity is striving for this new onboard destination to truly live up to that description.

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Ships Will Continue Sailing to Cuba

When the White House announced that President Trump would be reversing the Obama administration’s policy changes pertaining to Cuba, many in the travel industry were concerned. Tour operators and cruise lines have made commitments and investments in Cuba travel, and many travel agents have deposited trips for clients already on the books for 2017 and 2018. The Trump administration’s plans could adversely affect a lot of businesses.

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When Carnival Cruise Line recently announced their new EasyPay payment plan, my initial reaction was that they were coming up with yet more ways to make travel agents less valuable to cruise passengers. After learning more about it, I’m not as concerned.

For as long as I have been in the travel industry, travel agents have had the unique proposition of offering “payment plans” to their clients. Many travel agents liken it to a layaway plan.

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Many in the cruise industry might have though Royal Caribbean International was a bit crazy when they first announced their Oasis Class ships.  Oasis of the Seas and her sister ships were the largest ships at the time.  The reaction of their competitors has been mixed.  Some have come out with their own behemoth class of ships, while others have stuck to their guns and stayed with their smaller capacity ship sizes.  Royal Caribbean International has even scaled back recently, with the launch of the smaller Quantum Class of ships.

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Embarkation ports in the Gulf of Mexico, primarily New Orleans and Galveston, are continuing to see an increase in the cruise business departing from their ports. Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line have been the main players in the port of New Orleans for the past few years. Each have been operating two ships out of that port, with itineraries that mostly range from five to ten nights in length, with Norwegian also operating a 21 night re-positioning cruise that starts in New Orleans. But soon the cruise traffic will be increasing in New Orleans, as Royal Caribbean returns after a three year break.

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“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.

Accommodations

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 »