Tag Archives: cruise planning

Choose The Right Cruise Cabin

How Big A Rock ‘N Roll Fan Are You?

There is no delicate way to say this, but when a container of barf bags is hung on a rail beside all the Maasdam elevators, I know the captain is anticipating high seas and a rough ride.

(If you don’t know what a barf bag is, then you are recent to air travel, but at one time at least two these motion sickness bags were in the pocket of every airline seat, the one in front of you. Cruise lines rarely bring these out this prominently.)

The idea of rough seas and potential seasickness doesn’t bother me. I am lucky, I don’t get seasick. Instead, the rolling of the ocean makes me sleepy. A long time ago when I was a reporter for the now defunct Richmond News Leader in Richmond, Va., I had an assignment to go along for some weekend NATO or U.S. Navy maneuvers out of Norfolk. The reason I can’t be more specific is because the sea was so nasty all I did was sleep. That’s my reaction to rough seas. I’m lucky.

Linda, on the other hand, is of more delicate disposition. She sometimes needs to take seasick pills in anticipation of the motion of the ocean.

Minimizing Ship Motion

When I pointed out to Linda the new addition beside the elevator, she isn’t much worried. Although we might have received an upgrade toward the bow, we prefer to be at the stern—the same place the dining rooms are on most cruise ships. The stern also is referred to as the aft or back of a ship.

Dining rooms are situated at the back of a ship instead of forward, where the most expensive cabins are. Cruise ships like to have their passengers dine as peacefully as possible. Place the dining areas at the bow and the up-and-down theme park motion would be too much for many passengers.

Since the aft area is the part least affected by high seas, this is why we always book a cabin in that area.
Ironically, rooms on the top decks near the bow are often where the most expensive suites are located. They may have great views, but they can be among the least comfortable in truly rough conditions.

The cheaper aft cabins nearest to the dining areas usually have an elevator within a short distance from your cabin. From a stern cabin, there is no need to walk—or be tossed or struggle—compared to getting to the restaurant from a bow cabin.

This is a secret cruise lines don’t disclose: Many of them place their most expensive cabins at the wrong end!

At the end of the 35-day Maasdam cruise, I am surprised to have “land legs” from the moment I step off the ship. On other cruises, sometimes it’s taken several days before I stopped walking like a drunken sailor.

Note: Blog postings about our 35-day Caribbean cruise are not over. We’ve had a lot of reality to catch up with plus all the holiday reunions since returning. And, the need to make a living to help pay for the cruise will make these postings less frequent.

Cruise Planning – Gadgets and Gear

These items make extended cruising much easier

Power Strips
(Those of you who normally cruise in a suite can skip this first part, assuming you have a plethora of electrical outlets in such cabins. Not in my budget for such extra amenities.)

The average cruise cabin, regardless of age of the ship, typically is way behind the times when it comes to the electrical needs of the modern traveler. Think of all the items you need to charge every day: iPod, cell phone, iPad and/or Kindle, digital camera, Nintendo DS, you name it.

gadget outlet
That switch on the right controls our cabin lights on the Maasdam

But many cabins have only a two electrical outlets, located just above the desk and under the mirror. One outlet is for 220 volts, the other outlet for 115 volts. If you have an adapter for European travel, many smart phones and digital battery charges will also work off 220v, but you still end up with a grand total of two outlets.

No problem if you carry a power strip with you, right? That certainly will help but maybe not as much as you think.

Take a look at the basic power strip below (not surge protected) and how the outlets are positioned side by side:

gadget strip 1 empty

Now, here it is, full . . . or as full as can be considering all the different style of plugs these days.

gadget strip 1 full

This second type of power strip is surge protected and the outlets are positioned in a row, just as you find them in most homes:

gadget strip 2 empty

Yet even it isn’t perfect:

gadget strip 2 full

Solution: Carry both types, plugging one into the other.  That way you can handle more than one odd plug size at a time and keep everyone fully charged at the end of each day.

gadget both strips

Staying in Touch on Ship
At home, many families with children are in the habit of texting each other to see what they’re doing during the day. You can’t do that on a cruise ship unless you’re willing to pay cell phone surcharges.  More likely, your cell phone won’t have a signal most of the time. 
On days-at-sea, only satellite phones work. Those are much too costly to give to all family members, especially children.

Better to go retro and use an old fashioned device to keep in touch: walkie-talkies  Get a pair with a range of several miles, making it more likely they will work the entire length of the ship. If you have an inside cabin you might have to go out on deck to establish contact.

In addition, walkie talkies are a good way to keep in touch with one another in a cruise port. You, for instance, can stay by the pool to relax and be updated by the serious shoppers as they report about the bargains they find.

gadget walki talkis


For Digital Photographers

A Powered USB Hub

Buying enough SDHC memory cards to allow you to photograph freely on your cruise  without downloading any video or images could be almost as expensive as taking another 7-day Caribbean cruise, especially if you are shooting HD video or raw and large jpeg still images.  Most photographers don’t want to wait until returning home after their trip to view their material. Besides, who wants to wait until then to find out if their camera(s) are working properly, when it’s too late to take corrective measures.

Downloading to a laptop as well as a portable external memory drive (for backup) is routine for many serious photographers.  Downloading pictures in several places is the kind of redundancy that NASA tried to employ. 

Personally, I prefer to download simultaneously to 2 external hard drives and not dump them onto my computer’s hard drive. Many high capacity external drives will not function properly by simply plugging them into a regular USB port. Instead, the external drives work only when each drive is plugged into the computer because of the power they need to operate properly. Not all computers have enough ports (mine doesn’t.)

My solution is to choose a USB hub which is self-powered because it has its own plug-in power adapter. Like all USB hubs, it requires a host computer to be attached to.


gadget ext drives, powered usb hub

Memory Card Case
SD cards are scarily small compared to the old compact flash cards, which you could dump in a camera bag or pocket and easily find them. My solution to avoid misplacing them  and to make them easy to  locate is a hard memory card case I originally purchased for the larger  compact flash cards but never used because they didn’t play hide-and-seek every day. The card case keeps my four 8-gig SDHC cards trapped together quite well. They are allowed to come out only when they need to go to work. This memory card case has me the most organized I’ve ever been since digital cameras entered the market. Because I’m deathly afraid I’ll lose one of them.

gadgets SD card holder

Memory Sticks and High Speed Digital Flash Card Reader
I normally bring several memory sticks on a cruise to bring along documents not on my laptop. They can come in handy in other ways. You can use them to carry photos to show on other laptops. And, when docked in cruise ports, to download emails and other items using the faster and cheaper onshore Internet services.

If you download photos from your camera directly to your computer by using a cable, you risk losing all your material. If the camera battery is weak and the camera shuts off during the  transfer process, you could lose all the images in the camera as well as the material you were downloading when the battery died.

No need to take that kind of risk if you use a digital flash card reader. You simply fit the card into one end and the USB end into your computer and that’s all there is to it. You can use whatever program you want to make the transfer, too, not rely on what your camera furnishes. However, most lap tops don’t require a card reader since they have a built-in card reader slot, which sends your images directly into your computer and much easier and faster to send to external hard drives.

  gadgets memory stick, digital flash card reader

Have some special gear or gadgets of your own that others might be interested in? How about sharing them with the rest of us.

Laundry Schedule for a 35-Day Cruise

Keeping Our Scents Fresh

Actually, the what-to-wear factor on a 35-day Caribbean cruise isn’t difficult. The real issue is how to have enough clean clothes without packing a dozen suitcases. Holland America doesn’t care about how many suitcases we bring aboard. And since we’re driving to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, we truly can bring as many bags as we want, even as many as a dozen. It’s a matter of the size of your stateroom. Except for a suite, not many staterooms can accommodate luggage that can fill our rental vehicle.

If you’ve traveled to the Caribbean before, ever noticed a self-service laundry? Although there are quite a few of them in the islands, I never recall seeing one, or if I did, remember its location. Because even if I had, I don’t think I’d want to roll down the gangplank a suitcase of dirty clothes to a laundry dry near the end of the cruise pier. Efficient, but not convenient or classy. And certainly a waste of time while in port.  Out of curiosity, on the first 11 days of our cruise where we have been in a port almost every day. I looked byt never saw a Laundromat anywhere.

A Great Convenience—For How Long?
Of course, most cruise lines like Holland America offer laundry service and dry cleaning. But some HAL ships like the Maasdam offer self-service laundry facilities, a necessity for long-term voyages in order to avoid paying a per-garment cleaning charge. The washers and dryers on several decks stay open 24 hours a day.

clip_image001
Three stacked washers and dryers in a
laundry room on the “Maasdam” 

In our situation, laundry day is going to be every 2 weeks, beginning as the Maasdam returns to Fort Lauderdale to discharge and pick up new passengers. Competition for the laundry facilities is minimal, even towards the end of the cruise. Linda is able to get one washer immediately, a second 10 minutes later and the third—and final washer available-in just another 10 minutes.

A special low-suds detergent is provided free, and it is precisely measured by a dispenser. If you use more than the quarter of a cup dispensed, the washer will bubble over with suds, which will make the floor slick and create other possible disasters.
The washers take 30 minutes for each load, the dryers about 45 minutes. She says the three loads done on the ship would be two loads at home, that these washers take a smaller load.

The Maasdam will soon undergo a renovation. Let’s hope it will keep the laundry facilities for guests on what HAL calls extended “Collector Voyages.” It’s only fair.

St. Barts Shopping

 

                             St. Barts Shopping Mall

It’s wonderful if you’re movie-star rich

 

After a morning of hiking the beautiful hills above Gustavia, we intend for me to shop part of the afternoon. Mistake!  Many shops in town are open only from 10 am to 1 pm, then reopen from 4 to7:30 pm.

With the last tender back to the Maasdam departing at 4:30, that didn’t leave much time to check out the upscale, exclusive shops in much detail.

A few stores were open, including Goldfinger, a jewelry store recommended by the ship.  When I walked in to take a look around and no one said a word. Not “bonjour,” “hello,” “go jump in the water.” They completely ignored my presence. With my fanny pack and Nikon, I am obviously from the cruise ship or another tourist group.  That is fine with me, since no prices are visible on any of the diamonds or the Rolex or Tag Heuer watches.  All tags intentionally are turned over. If you have to ask the price of an item, Goldfinger is not for you.

Next, I make my way to the Cour Vendome which I believe means the place of shops or maybe the place of spending. This is where the most impressive shops were but the renovated mini-mall is an unimpressive location for shops such as Hermes, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari and Ralph Lauren.

As I approach the Robert Cavelli store, I hear a man inside say, “I don’t mind spending the money but this is ridiculous!” The entry door is suddenly discreetly closed by the sales clerk. I am intrigued and interested is what is happening.

As I enter the store and begin looking around, I overhear a “May/December” couple and the sales clerk having a three-way exchange.  The man is furious that his wife wants a dress costing 700 Euros. The clerk tries to convince him what fine material the dress is made of. At this point the man lolls his head back and rolls his eyes, saying, “Oh brother!”

The young trophy wife stomps her foot and complains, “But I really like it! And I can wear it Palm Beach, too!”.  The husband counters, “You could buy the same dress for $100 in Palm Beach. This is crazy”!

Trying not to laugh, I continue to look through the clothes. For 400 Euros, I can purchase an off-white cotton eyelet halter sundress. With the exchange rate (US$1 = 1.40 Euros), that’s almost $600.  For the rest, you can figure out the exchange rate easily by simply increasing the price 40-percent.

In Robert Cavelli, a cute white cotton ruffled white shirt that would look great with jeans goes for 700 Euros; a silk floral tank top is 840 Euros;  a sweater with tags of material like fringe 1,180 Euros;  with a matching tank top for 700 Euros.

Stuart Weitzman Shoes is closed but Lolita Taca is open.  There, I can buy the same cotton eyelet dress for 350 Euros (50 less than at Robert Cavelli) but a beach cover up robe goes for 450 Euros!  Lolita Taca does have a stunning sequined halter cocktail dress I like, but not at 690 Euros.

At You and Me, a shoes and purse store store, I find a black straw bag for 130 Euros. It looks like something any of us would find for $30 at Target in the States.

A man’s bathing suit catches my eye at Vilbrequim. It appears to be a child’s size because it is so small.  Instead, it turns out to be a man’s large. That brings up unpleasant images of how squeezably tight it must be on the average guy. Still, because it’s a white bathing suit with little blue turtles, it really looks better suited for a boy. It’s 300 Euros, big boy’s prices, while kid’s suits start at 280.

In a state of shock, I stumble into Edgar, a store for young men.  Just their T- shirts range from 145 to 180 Euros, jeans 285 to 510 , base price for baskets (Converse style tennis shoes) 295.  Men’s sports coats average 1000, ties 240, pants 290 upward and shirts start around 240.  Please realize these not extraordinary pieces of clothing.  Just basic black pants, white pants and gray shirts.  All very Gap-like in quality.

At Louis Vuitton, I locate a nice carry-on tote for 1,390 Euros and a pair of Jackie O sunglasses from 285 Euros.

Finally, I end up down the block at Tom’s Shop, The Funny Store where I’m greeted by Zoltar (the mechanical fortune teller in the Tom Hanks movie Big).  They have a large variety of things, from beach mats for 14.57 Euros, towels, shot glasses and mugs to pirate flags, magic cards and ice cream.  We actually buy something here: a pirate Christmas ornament for our tree.

St. Barts is a good day of fun, shooting pictures, exploring and laughing.  Now, on to Martinique.

by Linda O’Keefe

Maasdam Visits Tortola

Maasdam docked in Road Town, Tortola, BVI

We sit in Road Town internet café

Yeste3rday afternoon we finally posted blogs covering the past three days, it’s obvious we’ve been having some “technical difficulties.”  And we needed to spend as much time as it took to get them straightened out so they won’t reoccur again.
     The problem is not the internet service aboard the Maasdam. The satellite link can be fairly fast. The problem is on our end, and after spending an afternoon online it appears we have the kinks worked out.
     Unfortunately, the repair process took most of the afternoon.  And since we didn’t dock in Road Town on Tortola until around 11 a.m., we didn’t see much of anything.  Nothing really to blog about what we did, what we experienced.
     Except we found a really good place for inexpensive internet located on the right just outside the gates of the cruise port.  It’s in a small building whose main business is renting cars and motor scooters. Called Urban Rental, I never would have found it except someone on the ship recommended it.  The sign is small and the “Internet Café” part is secondary.  They charged us only US$5 an hour. 
      You can either rent a computer or connect your own to their wireless. The computer room is well air conditioned but loud: You’ll likely be hearing the owner and his friends outside colorfully discussing everything from politics to insurance.  If certain words offend you, consider the internet café behind the Banco Popular just another block down on the right. 
      Since you’re not likely to be dealing with technical problems on your trip, suggestions about what to do (I’ve been here numerous times before).   Take an excursion to Virgin Gorda and the remarkable rock formation known as The Baths where huge boulders created a series of pools along a section of beach.  Diving and snorkeling always are good in calm weather, though the British Virgin Islands are not noted for outstanding visibility.  Or you can walk an actual hiking trail on Tortola’s Sage Mountain, the highest point in the BVI’s.
     You’ll find plenty of shopping just outside the port gates in a series of white tents immediately on the left. They all seem to have pretty much the same thing.  Moving farther downtown, Pusser’s Pub is know for its rum and sailing apparel; Eddie Bauer–type garb with a nautical flair.
     Perhaps the most original store is Sunny Caribbee Spice Shop and Art Gallery. A Road Town institution in business for over 25 years, Sunny Caribbee sells its own blends of jerk, curry, teas and hot sauces from mild to xxx hot. Two of their best sellers are the Arawak Love Potion and West Indian Hangover Cure, both available in wooden apothecary jars. Check out their wares online at www.sunnycaribbee.com. Their mailing address is St. Thomas, which means surprisingly low shipping costs, including regular U.S. priority mail rates.
      Linda and I hope we’ll be able to post daily from now on. If there is another problem, and we pray there won’t be, we’ll catch up with our posts as soon as we can.  No more sitting in internet cafes for hours at a time when it prevents us from getting out and about.  If we do, we’ll have nothing new to write about.  Like today.

Caribbean Cruise – What To Pack

Consider These The Bare Essentials
 
 Which clothes to pack for a Caribbean cruise is simpler than you think. Your two most important considerations are comfort and practicality.
     Before deciding what to pack, do your homework first to narrow your focus and eliminate the urge to throw things in the suitcase at the last minute for “just in case.”
     Make a list of every day’s port of call and the activities you plan to participate in at each.
      How many days do you spend at sea? That requires almost no wardrobe. You can spend the entire day in a bathing suit if you wish.  
     Now that you know your itinerary, get down to serious business.  Remember, most people don’t dress or look like the models in cruise advertisements. There’s no need to break the bank on clothing for a cruise.  Save your money for fun things to do at the different ports you’ll be visiting.  
     Most things you need are in your closet.
     The usual basics are best for both men and women.  
     For men: Slacks and a polo-style shirt are appropriate attire for a man at dinner and the shirt can be worn the next day with shorts.  The only night men need a coat and tie is the formal evening.
     For women: Don’t limit yourself to dresses and heels–you may regret it. Dinner wear is actually fairly simple. For daytime, bring a pair of light slacks and a pair of black slacks with blouses or tanks.   Formal night is whatever you want it to be but slacks with a dressy blouse are fine
      Footwear: A must have item are black walking/tennis shoes.  Both for men and women. Yes, even on formal nights.  Ladies, trust me, in rough seas walking can be tough and you don’t want to be in heels. Who’s going to look at your feet anyway?  
      Why such casual footwear? Your cruise ship’s main dining rooms may not be located on the same floor as your stateroom. So, you may have to climb stairs and walk from one end of the ship to the other—in rough seas. Be comfortable. You’re on vacation.
     Sweater: Even though it’s warm and humid in the Caribbean, air conditioning can make dining chilly.  A good investment for a woman is a nice light-weight black sweater.  It can be stuffed into a carry-on bag and pulled out at a moment’s notice to dress you up while wearing casual slacks.
     Two bathing suits are all you need to carry on board.  One to wear while the other one dries.
     Cover ups are important to remember but towels are furnished poolside and for beach trips in port.
     Snorkel equipment is usually included with shore excursions. But if you have your own gear, bring it. Then you’ll know your mask won’t leak and the fins won’t blister your feet.
     Lightweight rain jacket just in case liquid sunshine decides to dump on you. Some rain jackets fold into themselves to make packing easier.
  Small rain umbrella when combined with lightweight rain jacket is as much good luck as you can possibly pack to stave off rain. Cruising during the Caribbean’s usual January-April dry season is the most powerful rain deterrent

A 35-Day Cruise – Forget Driving & Parking

 

Although the following nuts and bolts relate to my extended 35-day cruise, the situation applies to everyone wanting to slash both their travel costs and port parking charges.   

My 35-day Caribbean cruise aboard the ms Maasdam departing Nov. 12 from Fort Lauderdale comes with a few problems. Most important is determining the most efficient (cheapest) way to travel from the Orlando area. Driving my own vehicle is out of the question with Port Everglades charging $20 a day for parking. That will come to $700 or about 25percent of the actual cruise cost. Forget that.

Going by air is not feasible. Although the distance between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale is only about 215 miles, flying is an unreasonable and expensive proposition. Except for Spirit Airlines, whose direct flight with a very good schedule is only $120 per person roundtrip. Unfortunately, based on flying Spirit, I will never ever fly Spirit again. The airline doesn’t know what a schedule means. Further, luggage and a glass of water or anything (besides toilet paper?) on Spirit will be an extra charge.

Southwest Airlines with two free bags per person is a more attractive alternative but the roundtrip fare still is about $200 per person.  AirTran, a favorite that does not fly directly to Fort Lauderdale, is $373. The best Priceline comes up with is $688 with multiple stops on Continental. Ridiculous since I can fly Continental from Orlando to San Diego for about $300.

My best option is a rental car. Using my discount as a member of BJ’s Wholesale Club, Budget Rent-A-Car rents me an intermediate vehicle from Orlando to the Fort Lauderdale International Airport with drop off there for about $100. The cost for the return is the same. I like that.

The Fort Lauderdale airport happens to be so close to the Port Everglades cruise terminal that rental car companies provide a free shuttle to the ships.  Now, that’s a deal!

Perhaps most importantly, the amount of luggage is irrelevant. It does take a lot of luggage for a 35-day cruise. More importantly, there is the matter of souvenirs. Cruise lines don’t care how much you buy as long as it all fits it in your stateroom and can  leave the ship with the rest of the baggage.

So I also will be bringing some extra suitcases, empty when I depart but packed solid when I return. And have no concern about their weight. The varieties of Caribbean hot sauces will weigh at least 20 pounds, if not more. And if I see another 35-pound carved wooden mask to add to my collection, so what?  Or a painting that I can hand-carry off the ship and not worry about being crushed in airline luggage.

Point of all this: Consider your best option for traveling to the port regardless of cruise length.

But with 35 days at sea, there still is more to consider. As you will see in tomorrow’s blog

A 35-Day Caribbean Cruise? For Real?

The typical 7-day Caribbean cruise may be fine for most people but I find them disappointing. Just as you’re becoming accustomed to ship-board life, it’s time to return to port. And 7 days, even from Florida, doesn’t offer the chance to travel very far.

Still, when I spotted a 35-day Caribbean cruise aboard the ms Maasdam on VacationsToGo.com, I thought it had to be a misprint. Thirty-five days is a third of the length of most around the world voyages.

Yet it was true, a 35-day tour of 19 different islands with only two repeats—St. Barts and Barbados, two of my favorites. Plus three stops at Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s water sports playground, and two returns to the home port of Fort Lauderdale.

cruise-ships-maasdam
The Maasdam, My Future Home For 35 Days

The 35-day cruise is actually a piggyback of three different itineraries of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, including such rarely visited islands as St. Vincent and Martinique and quite a few ports off the regular milk runs: St. Barts, St. Croix, Grenada, Aruba Bonaire and Curacao.

The Maasdam, carrying only 1,250 passengers, is able to visit these islands that mega-ships ferrying between 4,000 and 5,500 cruisers cannot dock at and whose ports cannot handle such hoards of cruisers. Long live the smaller ships!      

Perhaps the most amazing thing of all is the price of this itinerary. Including government taxes and port charges, it averages $73.35 a day for an inside cabin.  (Hey, I’m a blogger!) My wife and I signed up for the cruise, which departs from Fort Lauderdale in just 10 days.   

But planning for a cruise of this length presents some unusual problems. Living in Orlando, it’s not worth flying to Fort Lauderdale but Port Everglades charges $20 a day for parking ($20 x 35=$700). Has to be a way around that!

Join me and Linda on this blog for the next few days as we check off and solve the problems before sailing and anticipate a few issues we expect to encounter on board.

Then follow us as we explore the islands and life on board the ms Maasdam for more than a month.