Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bienvenidos a Cuba!

The second that I heard that Royal Caribbean was opening up sailings to Cuba I rushed to their site. I was determined to get on one of the first listings offered! At the time that I booked, few cruise lines had ships headed to Havana. Now you can choose from options from many of the major lines including: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland, Fathom, AND Norwegian.  

My ship was the Empress of the Seas. It is one of the smallest and oldest ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet; and I LOVED it!* It has a cuban themed lounge where you can play dominos. You can listen to nightly karaoke, sample a tasty cuban stew from the buffet, and listen to the usual trivia and pool bands.

Our sailing was a short one- only 5 days long. It stopped first in Key West, which proudly boasts that it is 90 miles from Cuba- placing it on many Havana-bound itineraries. Then we did one day in Havana, before heading to Cozumel, Mexico, and then home.
Some Cuban sailings do an overnight in Havana to give you more time- but by and large most of the major cruise lines only stop at that one port for 8 hours. In order to see more parts of Cuba you would need to sail with a luxury line such as Oceania.

While I would have loved more time in Havana, I did relish the time that I had. In order to legally visit Cuba you need to take a people-to-people tour.** Our tour guide did a great job and I feel like I got a nice taste of the area.
The Church of San Francisco in the Plaza San Francisco.

We visited 4 plazas with famous churches, such as the San Francisco. These plazas hosted pet dogs who are free to roam, and kids playing during recess. We saw the tree gifted to the country by Michelle Obama during the negotiations that opened the island back up to US tourism, a brick road made of wooden bricks, fascinating modern art, and old preserved architecture.

Cigar, coffee, and a sugar cane rum drink that I really liked!
While we were only taken to main tourist areas, I was able to look down alley ways and see the true variety of Cuban livelihood. On a tour you WILL see classic cars, and you will get a chance to buy a cigar. Do not worry! In fact, our tour even ended with us being taught how to properly smoke the cigar while drinking cuban rum and coffee!

I highly recommend that you visit if you have the chance- and book early! You will save money this way! For frequently asked questions about cruising to Cuba please click here.  For other Caribbean destinations click here.
*All of the ships headed to Havana are small ships because the port isn’t large enough to accommodate large ones. ** Any tour offered by the cruise line will qualify as people-to-people.

A free-roaming pet dog of Havana, named Cortico.
Modern art in the Plaza San Francisco.
I promise you will get a chance to buy cigars!

The wooden bricks in one of the plazas.
Drying laundry from the residents of Havana. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Cruising to Cuba Q&A

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Can I sail to Cuba?

Yes, in fact, this may be the only way that you can travel to Cuba! Only group tours are permitted after recent changes in travel permissions by the United States.

For the last couple of months, Cubans have been renting out their houses “Airbnb-style” as “Paladars.” However, since Americans staying in these accommodations aren’t travelling with a certified group- this style of travel will no longer be permitted.

Cruises, on the other hand, provide people-to-people guided group tours that will still be permitted under the new rules. This means that as long as you book your group tour through the cruise line your tour will be in accordance with the law and you will be able to visit. This is very similar to the status of people cruising to Russia.

Which cruise lines are sailing to Cuba?

Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Holland, Carnival, Oceania, and Azamara

What ports do the Cuba cruises sail from?

Tampa, Miami, Fort Lauderdale

Where do I find out what forms I need, and the answers to other FAQ?

How does the visa work? Do I need to get the visa ahead of time?

The Cuban visa costs $75 and will be obtained and paid for onboard your cruise. You do not need to obtain this document ahead of time, however, you do need to fill out any pertinent forms, such as the affidavit, for your cruise ahead of time.

Will a passport be required as well?

Yes, a passport will be required for all guests sailing to Cuba. Guest passports must be valid for six months after their travel date to Cuba.

Why small ships?

Only small ships fit under the Sunshine Skyway bridge and into the port of Havana. Larger ships will not fit.

How does the president’s new travel decree affect cruises to Cuba?

Per statements from the cruise lines, cruises to Cuba will still proceed with no itinerary changes.

How does the money work?

Do not count on your credit card working in Cuba. You will need cash when visiting. There are two forms of currency, the CUC and CUP. Your dollars will be converted into CUCs which is the governmental currency used by foreigners. Luckily there is an exchange at the Havana terminal! A 13% transaction fee will be charged for American dollars being converted. If you bring Euros instead, the exchange rate is lower.

Can I buy Cigars and Rum in Cuba?

Yes! You can bring some home as souvenirs and gifts for friends as well!

What should I bring with me on my tour?

While the answer varies depending on your tour, I would recommend toilet paper, walking shoes, and sunscreen. The toilets may not have toilet paper and sunscreen is ALWAYS a good idea.

Do people speak English?

Your tour guide will!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Birthday Recognition

Let us know if you want to have your birthday recognized onboard! Many of the cruise lines will do something special!


For your birthday Carnival will sing to you in the main dining room and put a candle in the dessert course. Tell us which date you would like to celebrate so we can request this ahead of time.

Honeymoon- they do nothing but wish guests a happy honeymoon. Guests can create cruise-based registries here though:


Celebrate with a toast or bring a cake, we specify the night ahead of time.


If you are a Costa club member already and it is your Anniversary (depends on which ship Neo no) advise us so that you can be invited to a cocktail party. If you are already a Costa club member and it is your let us know which date you want to celebrate and you will be given a cake and singing for costa club members. We cannot request this for non-costa club members. However, guests can sign up for costa club online before their first sailing.


Celebrations aren’t celebrated on Cunard.


Let us know what date you want to celebrate and when your server brings cupcakes/ dessert they will sing happy birthday.


Celebrations on Holland occur during dinner 1st or last day at sea. Let us know to request it and they will bring a cake with a candle while wishing you happy birthday.


Let us know that your birth date will be on the sailing so that we can let MSC know. MSC does acknowledge in some way birthdays or anniversaries, though cake is not guaranteed.


Let us know which date you want to celebrate. You will receive card in your stateroom which you then give  to the maitre’d and then matire’d brings a cake.


Princess puts signs on the door for anniversaries and birthdays. Let us know which date you want to celebrate and in the dining room you will get a special dessert.

Royal Caribbean

Let us know which night you will want to celebrate ahead of time. Royal Caribbean will give you a cake at dining, and sing happy birthday to you.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Royal Caribbean's new ship: the Harmony of the Seas

“Are you going on the big one?” our hotel waitress asked.
 “Yes, we’re going on the BIG one.”

There was no mistaking what we were referring to. Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas is the largest ship at sea. Here is a picture for comparison. It is the Harmony beside the Norwegian Breakaway. The Breakaway is also a very large and new ship; however, it is tiny compared to the massive Harmony of the Seas.

The size is necessary to fit the incredible number of activities available on this ship. There are 7 neighborhoods in total! You can go from the Boardwalk, to Central Park or to the Spa!

The percentage of ship activities that were kid-friendly amazed me. I have never seen so many things for kids to do in one place! There are so many that I am going to number them for you as I describe them all.

1.There is the Splashaway Bay water park for young kids. This area was very cute and age appropriate for younger travelers. It has a bucket pouring water down, sprinklers, and a few small slides.
2. There are two Perfect Storm waterslides for the older kids (and adults). These are multiple stories tall and not for the faint of heart. There are also multiple pools, hot tubs, and whirlpools.
3. Onboard is a 3D movie theater.
4. There is a dance floor for rocking out, with dance lessons, contests and more!
5.  Plus there is the TEN STORY slide, the Abyss. It has a giant anglerfish at the top with big teeth. Sliding down it was a breeze. I used it multiple times to get from a higher deck to a lower deck faster.

6. There is a classical carousel on the iconic boardwalk.
7. Arcades are scattered throughout the ship to the delight of both kids and adults. I took some time to wax nostalgic by playing skee-ball. That game will never not be fun.
8. The Adventure Ocean Youth program is a complimentary kid’s club that has its own movie theater, science lab, and art studio. There is also a teen lounge area and a disco. It looked like a lot of fun.

9. Kids can surf on the surf simulator which has an instructor on standby to help everyone learn how to Hang ten. I overcame my fear and tried it in my ungraceful way. Many of the kids that tried the surf simulator put adults like me to shame. They were natural pros.

10. There is also an onboard zip line that spans 82 feet across! Gliding over the ship this way is quite the rush, let me tell you!
11. There are ping pong tables!
12. There are basketball court!
13. Even in your stateroom, there are kid-friendly things to do. Dreamworks and Pixar movies are available on the tv in the stateroom. On my sailing, I took the opportunity to watch “Finding Dory” and the new “Ghostbusters.”

14. Kids can watch the holiday parade through the central shopping area.
15. They can stop at Sorrentos to eat the delicious pizza.

16. Plus, the can meet their favorite Dreamworks characters! These characters include Shrek, the Hippo from Madagascar, the Penguins from Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda!

17. The onboard shows are phenomenal and include the well known “Grease,” as well as an ice show, and an incredible water production in the Aqua Theater. Even though I have been a “Grease” fan for years, I liked the water show even more. The show combined high diving, slacklining, acrobats, dancers, intricate lighting and circus performers to create a show that was really unique and exciting.

18. There’s even an onboard ice skating rink that's open for free skate some of the time, and hosts the ice show at other times!
19. There are two 43 ft high rock walls. I didn't get a chance to climb during my quick cruise, but I encourage you to check it out during yours. I imagine the view is unparalleled.

20. Last but not least there is a very cute onboard mini golf course!

One spectacle for all, and server for adults-only, is robot bartender. Watch it mix your drinks while dancing to the music that is playing.

The spa provided a heavenly retreat for adults only. I hear that massages are lovely, and you can also get a manicure or haircut.

The best-kept secret on the ship may be the adults-only escape room onboard! It was highly technical with flashing lights and clever puzzles. I highly recommend it. This was the surprise easter egg of my trip and I thought that it was fantastic.

I sampled the Voom internet while at sea and the speed allowed me to stay completely connected. However, if you would prefer an electronics break- this ship is a great place to do it. There is so much stimuli for adults and kids to experience. The Harmony of the Seas provides a truly unique and incredible vacation. Check it out!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Why should you book your next cruise while on board? BOOKING BONUSES!

Read all about them ...

For past cruisers, you’ve likely waltzed by the onboard sales office on your way to all the fun.

Being too busy enjoying your current vacation, you really don’t want to spend your time meeting with a Future Cruise Counselor discussing your next cruise when you only have about a week onboard to spend sunbathing at the pool, exploring your ports of call, or trying to hit big in the casino.

But, the thing is, if you’re going to go on another cruise (let’s face it -- we all know you are!) then, you’ll really want to check out the onboard sales office to see what all they’re offering.

The cruise line is likely to be offering reduced deposits, onboard spending credit, and other freebies if you reserve onboard. Sometimes, there is even onboard spending credit applied to the cruise you are already on AND your future cruise! 

Most cruise lines offer this convenience.  You can check your cruise’s daily newsletter for desk location and hours.

The best news of all is that you can snag one of these future cruise “credits” and have it transferred to our agency for an ADDITIONAL DISCOUNT!



Unfortunately, the Imagination, Inspiration, Sensation, Spirit, Valor, and Legend do not have Future Cruise Counselors onboard the ship but the remaining, unmentioned vessels do.

Cruisers may select ships and sail dates and also receive an onboard credit of up to $200 per stateroom. 

The reservation can be combined with other promotions, except interline discounts, and you get two vouchers for the same onboard credit that you can give to friends or family who will be joining the sailing. 

There is no deposit discount. 

You can cancel for no charge up to 90 days before the scheduled sailing. 

I would strongly recommend this program. You are afforded a lot of freedom and few restrictions with Carnival’s no charge cancellation policy of up to 90 days before sailing. 



Celebrity’s Future Cruise Vacations program offers discounted deposits of $100 per guest.  

Additionally, you can book up to three future cruises at one time and the offer is combinable with Celebrity’s promotions such as their “Go Big, Go Better, Go Best!” sale.  

You can choose either the “Cruise Now” or “Cruise Later” option when making your reservation.

The “Cruise Now” plan offers up to $500 onboard spending credit which is based upon the sailing you choose.

You can cancel your booking up until 90 days before the cruise departs without penalty.

You also can change your cruise date or ship, and, if the price drops for your cruise, you can get the better deal. 

The Cruise Later option is best if you know that you want to cruise but haven't yet picked a ship or date. 

There is no expiration date on your reservation and you're eligible for up to $200 in onboard credit. 

I would strongly recommend this program. You are afforded a lot of freedom and few restrictions with Celebrity’s no charge cancellation policy of up to 90 days before sailing without penalty, allowances of refaring if the price drops, and Cruise Later program. The Cruise Later program, in particular, allows you to take advantage of the bonuses without the bind of being locked into a specific cruise. 



If you reserve a cruise with Costa while on board, you get a 5 percent discount that becomes guaranteed once you finalize the booking through your travel agent. 

The line also runs promotions on top of the 5 percent discount, such as a 100 euro voucher to use toward that future cruise.  

This amount may vary based upon ship and sail date.

You also would get a voucher to give to a family member or friend in such a case. 

The discount may vary depending on the ship and sail date you are interested in.

The deposit cannot be redeemed for cash. 

I would cautiously recommend this program. Rules and restrictions are provided onboard, and may be more binding than other cruise line’s programs. 



One important thing to note for Disney’s Future Cruise Credit program is that there are blackout dates (typically Christmas sailings). If there is a specific sailing you are interested in, be sure to ask the counselor onboard the ship if you can use it for that cruise prior to purchasing. 

Disney deposits are reduced to 10% for 7 night or longer sailings, come with a 10% discount on your future cruise, and come with up to $200 onboard spending credit as well (amount depends on the ship and sail date).

Blackout dates receive the onboard credit as well as the reduced deposit if it is a 7+ night sailing, but will not get the 10% discount off of prevailing rates. 

You can select a specific cruise at the time of purchase or you can save it and have it applied at a later date.

Guests must sail within 18 months after the date of the original booking was made onboard. 
It is also limited to two staterooms on one future cruise date per household, any additional staterooms may be booked at current prevailing rates

This offer is valid for Categories 4-11 only and is not valid for concierge level categories, 1 or 2 night sailings or IGT, OGT, and VG Restricted Categories.

Name changes to the reservation may be made as long as one adult on the original booking remains on the reservation.

Certificates are non-refundable for cash.

I would cautiously recommend this program. Disney has black out dates that this program cannot be applied to, and they may apply to the date that you had wanted to sail on. There are also restrictive name change rules and only an 18 month time frame to use the future cruise credit. These restrictions may be too limiting for some and could cause problems. 



The Future Cruise Consultant desk on Holland offers up to $200 per cabin in onboard credit (based on length of sailing and stateroom category) with a deposit of $100 per person for a 3 to 10 day cruise.

You can choose an itinerary on your current sailing or make a future cruise deposit and take up to four years to pick your cruise before the deposit expires.

You can cancel or change your reservation up to 90 days before the departure without penalty. 

Here are the typical onboard credit amounts:

3-10 Days: 
  • $25 for Inside/Oceanview
  • $50 Balcony and Suites

11-21 Days: 
  • $50 for Inside/Oceanview
  • $75 Balcony and $100 Suite

22-50 Days: 
  • $100 for Inside/Oceanview
  • $150 Balcony and Suites

51+ Days: 
  • $150 for Inside/Oceanview
  • $200 Balcony and Suites

Holland’s Future Cruise Deposits are not valid on Grand World Voyages, Grand Voyages, or segments of Grand Voyages. 

Certificates are non-refundable for cash.

I would strongly recommend this program. You are afforded a lot of freedom and few restrictions with Holland’s no charge cancellation policy of up to 90 days before sailing, and relaxed 4 years to choose a sailing to get the future cruise credit applied. 



MSC’s Future Cruise Credit program is only offered on the MSC Divina in the Caribbean.

This program allows passengers who book onboard to receive up to $200 per cabin in onboard credit, based on ship, sail date and cabin category. 

Deposits are $100 per person. 

Cruisers can book specific cruises while onboard or decide up to four years later before the deposit expires.

You can combine the reservation with certain other promotions including the military discount.

Certificates are non-refundable for cash.

I would strongly recommend this program. You are afforded a lot of freedom and few restrictions with MSC’s relaxed time-frame of 4 years to choose a sailing to apply the future cruise credit to. 



With NCL, guests may purchase a $250 Freestyle Cruise Rewards deposit to reserve a sailing of 6 days or longer.

Additionally, guests get an instant $100 onboard spending credit for the sailing that they are currently on. 

Guests have the option to apply the $250 deposit to a sailing they have already picked out or they can simply save it until they have one.

The Freestyle Cruise Rewards is valid for four years from the purchase date before it will expire.

Guests may charge the $250 Freestyle Cruise Reward to their onboard account and it is refundable within 30 days of purchase (less the $100 instant onboard credit if refunded).

I would cautiously recommend this program. You only have 30 days to decide to cancel the program which is a very short time frame, and you will be penalized for the instant onboard credit portion of the purchase. 

However, this is a great option if you are certain you are going to cruise again and will not cancel your or return your future cruise credit. 


Princess offers future cruise sales consultants on each of its ships. 

You pay $100 per person to reserve a future sailing and you can claim onboard credit of up to $150 per passenger (based on cruise length and cabin class). 

You can book a specific cruise onboard or get an open reservation to sail that's good for up to four years. 

Your deposit is refundable if you choose not to use your deposit towards a future sailing. 

I would strongly recommend this program. Your deposit is automatically refundable if it’s not applied to a specific sailing. The benefits are great, and there is no risk of losing your deposit if you do not find a sailing to apply it to.
Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean's NextCruise program allows guests to get up to $200 per cabin in onboard credit (based on length of sailing) and pay a reduced deposit of $100 per person for their reservation. 

Cruisers don't have to pick their ships or sailing dates at the time of the reservation as there is no expiration date. 

Guests get two NextCruise certificates for friends or family who can sail with you and also receive onboard credit. 

These certificates are valid for 5 years and are non-refundable after purchase.

Royal Caribbean's standard cancellation policies apply to onboard bookings. 

Certificates are non-refundable for cash.

Shareholder onboard credits and other onboard credit or dollars-off promotions are not combinable with the onboard credit for booking a NextCruise onboard. 

I would strongly recommend this program. You are afforded a lot of freedom and few restrictions with Royal Caribbean’s relaxed time-frame of 5 years to choose a sailing to apply the future cruise credit to. 

******* Please note that this information is subject to change at any moment and may vary based upon the current promotions.  This article serves to inform our clients of the potential benefits to booking onboard. ********