Monday, April 17, 2023

Cruise Line Comparisons

This comes from a comment I made on someone asking to compare Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) to Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL).

I'll let you know in 2025 after I cruise them all to see if I eat my words, but for the moment, these are my unfiltered impressions.

All of my cruises up til now have been on Carnival (I'm Gold level), but I am booked on Virgin, Royal Caribbean (RC), and NCL for my future cruises (plus another Carnival in there as well!).

From using their websites, participating in Facebook groups, and talking to people in general, here are some of my observations:

Carnival demographic is more mixed class-wise and diversity-wise. I think people who look down on Carnival as a hobby are more likely to be extremely (religiously and politically) conservative, also more likely to be racist.

I'm Canadian and there don't seem to be as many Canadians cruising Carnival.
But Canadians seem to LOVE RC, Disney, and NCL, from what I can tell.

Virgin is 18+ and attracts a wide range of people, but mostly 45+ age group, also lots of 2SLGBTQ+ folk. It's a party, but it's a very gay party. So good food, champagne, and dancing. Their customer service line answers the phone very quickly.

NCL itineraries are very port heavy and they put a lot of emphasis on excursions, which are really more guided tours. If you are at the point in your life that you don't want to walk everywhere and would rather have a bus take you around, this is the cruise for you!

If you look at NCL's extras you can order to your room, the demographic is definitely interesting because while like Carnival, you can order chocolate covered strawberries, on NCL you can also order a whole sheet cake for 40 people, a $1600 bottle of wine, and a platter of assorted "funeral" sandwiches. I'm really unsure what people will be getting up to in their cabins on NCL. Sounds like a bizarre church luncheon.

RC seems like a great family ship, but really overpriced for essentially the same stuff you would find on Carnival for free. But it's cheaper than a Disney cruise, so people like it. *shrug* 
It has stuff like a skating rink and a rock climbing wall, which I am going to do simply so I can say I ice skated on a cruise ship. But I didn't go looking for that.

I'm trying them all out because I don't like to compare. I feel like they all have something to offer and that's what makes it interesting. I don't think there's such thing as a perfect cruise line. 

I booked with Virgin because I wanted to try the 18+ atmosphere. 
I booked with RC because it fit perfectly as a B2B with my Virgin cruise. 
And I booked NCL because it has my bucket list destination (the Azores) that few other cruise lines offer.

I haven't had to call customer service yet for RC or NCL, but I've had to for Virgin, so that might say something. Out of all of them, Virgin's site is the hardest to navigate for the booking info page. It's not as intuitive as the others. 

So those are my impressions so far. We'll see how I feel afterwards. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

First Time Cruise Tips

I can't say I am the most experienced cruiser, and all of mine have been on Carnival, but I want to help alleviate some of the stress and unknowns many first time cruisers have. 

A few things to keep in mind: I have to fly to most cruise ports. My city is a major port city, but only a few (very expensive) cruise lines come here, and they tend to have itineraries I am not very interested in.

All that to say, I have to plan and pack as one who is flying, and since I am going into a foreign country (I usually pick cruises that leave from US ports), I have to use my passport. 

Please research your entry requirements for your citizenship and circumstances. 

With that out of the way, let's get to the fun part!

You can do it yourself

One question I see often is whether you should use a Personal Vacation Planner (PVP) or make the booking yourself. There are pros and cons to both, but I want to let you know it is not rocket science and you can do all the booking yourself, online. If you're like me and love to be in control of all aspects of planning, you'll enjoy the booking process. It is not any more complicated than booking a flight. 

That said, PVPs who are employed by Carnival see exactly the same deals you see online and they don't work on commission (they get a decent salary). So it will not cost you any more to have someone help you through the process. The drawback is that any time you need something modified in your booking, you have to work through your PVP - you will not be able to modify your booking online in your account yourself. 

This might work out for you as long as your PVP is easily reachable and responsive to your needs. My experience is once the booking is made, they tend to disappear. This is especially true of PVPs who are independent, and not directly employed by the cruise line. They may also take a commission, in this case, so your costs may be different. Or they may pressure upsell you to a higher room category. 

On a similar note, I also avoid booking through third-parties. If compensation is given (missed port/fees refund), it goes through the third-party first and you may miss out. 

Book the room you want

I see people trying to save money and then waiting and hoping for a cheap upgrade. Sometimes you get lucky, but in general, all the highly desired cabins get sold out quickly. The likelihood of getting your dream upgrade by booking an interior room is not great. 

Vacations are expensive. Your cabin is not a great place to cheap out on. If your preferred room type is not available, look at later/future sailings. People who get suites and balconies typically book further out. 

But absolutely spend the extra money to book the type of room you want, rather than hoping for an upgrade. Especially with many travel restrictions being lifted, cruising is back in high demand and cruises are booking up. 

All that said, the XL class ships are in higher demand (and more expensive) than the smaller ships, so you may be able to afford a suite on a small ship for almost the same price as an ocean view on a larger ship. Compare, compare, compare!

One side note: many cruise lines offer a discount rate for them to choose your cabin for you. For the most part, people I have spoken to about this say they have always been assigned a great cabin and had no regrets. If things like location/deck or obstructed views are not important to you, this is a smart way to save money. 

Don't bring so much stuff!

I'll never understand why people want to bring everything, including their kitchen sink on board. This happens more with those who drive to their port, as well as long time cruisers, it seems. 

But remember you are going into a tiny cabin! Cruise cabins are often much smaller than hotel rooms, plus you may be sharing a cabin with one to four other people. They can get cramped! 

For my first cruise, I watched all the YouTube videos telling me all the gadgets I would absolutely need - I went and bought them all, and didn't use even 80% of them. So useless and unnecessary!

I can tell you the items I use every time and the rest is not important (referral links I may earn income from):

  • Reef safe sunscreen (get a high SPF. I use Fenty or All Good) if you're headed to the Caribbean, Southern Europe/Mediterranean, or Asia/Australia, especially in the summer. 
  • Non-surging multi-plug outlet to charge phones/electronics
  • Lanyards for my cabin card (I have one that my phone hangs from as well)
  • Motion sickness medication, your preferred fever reducer medication, a small first aid kit, your regular daily medications or vitamins (if applicable)
  • Disinfectants (peroxide, lysol wipes etc) to clean surfaces in your cabin, as well as your phone. (I use a UV sterilizer for my masks, toothbrush and phone) 
  • Clothing, including swim suit
  • My favourite skincare/hair products, lotion, make up (some ships don't provide hair conditioner or body lotion)
  • Menstrual products, if you need them.

That's it! Anything else is extra. Many things can be bought on the ship or at a port of call (more expensive), but if you only had the above items, you can have a perfectly good cruise. 

I always pack a small travel clock with me that I keep on ship time and also tells me the room temperature, but I forgot to pack batteries last time, so we lived without it. 

Fly in the day before

It's OK to fly out the day of your cruise most of the time, as long as you are booking a flight later than 12:30pm on debarkation day. But you really should fly in at least the day before to be on the safe side. Few things more stressful than trying to run for a cruise ship! (I've done it, I don't recommend it).

Spend the money on a hotel room the night before and be there early, with peace of mind. I try to book a morning flight the day before so that if that one is delayed, there may be an evening flight I can catch. And failing that, one last very early morning flight the day of. This happened to us this summer, so if we hadn't been trying to fly out 24 hours before, we would never have made it. 

Get travel insurance

Again, for peace of mind, get travel insurance. Check if your credit card offers it, or your workplace, but if not, cancellation and baggage insurace, at the very minimum, are really worth it. Shop around - you may get better deals by buying independently, or you can just take the insurance provided by the cruise line, if it's applicable for you. 

Dealing With Sea Sickness

The motion of a ship is really simple physics. Staying low and midship will have the least amount of movement. Balance a pencil on your finger and see which parts bob up and down most. The ends do. Same as a ship.

However, a ship also rocks side to side. All modern ships have state of the art stabilizers, but the fact is, you are still just a tiny vessel in a huge ocean and you will feel it move. Nature is unpredictable as well. It's just the cost of being out in the beautiful sea. 

All that said, you can pick a cabin on a low mid-deck, but you are not likely to stay in your cabin the whole time. Entertainment and meals are often at either end of the ship and high up.

For me, I've noticed I do best when I can see outside. So I sit near windows if I'm inside. I don't stay inside the dark theatre for hours on end. Fresh air is also helpful, and making sure there is always some food in your stomach, even if it's just crackers or bread. I take one Bonine every day at dinner time and I'm fine. I've even cruised in storms and actually found it kind of fun and exciting. And I'm actually the type of person who get very sick, very quickly on small boats. 

I think a lot of it has to do with fear: I know that the captain is doing their best to steer us safely into calm waters and I trust the ship will do exactly as it's meant to do. I often find watching TV to distract myself, or just going to bed makes the anxiety pass and you usually find you wake up in calm waters the next morning. 

Let me know if you have more questions and I'll write a Part 2! 

Carnival Liberty Review - Nov 2022 Sailing

 My honest review:

Sailed Monday, Nov 28-Dec 2nd. (We are the sailing that arrived late on Friday)

This was my fourth cruise with Carnival, my first on the Liberty.

I brought my best friend along for his first cruise and I upgraded us to a suite. We were in cabin 7231. It was very quiet - probably my quietest cabin ever. 

We got on the ship around 10:45am and were able to drop our bags off in our room and get changed into swim gear. We jumped in the hot tub pretty much right away. My friend went down the water slide (I'm too chicken).

Muster was the quickest ever: we walked over, they scanned us, asked us if we knew how to put on a life jacket, we both said 'yes' and they told us to go have fun. 

I saw no issues with the condition of the ship or cleanliness. I didn't find it worn down or anything. I was just on the Horizon in June, so while there's no comparison there, I didn't see or smell any issues.

I love these smaller ships. Easy to navigate and find everything. Our cabin location was great. 

I spent a lot of time in the steam sauna. It was never crowded, and there were always lots of towels and very clean. The showers there were also nice and hot and no one was ever in there. I feel like I was the only one who used them. My friend used the gym and running track. 

We went to the Steakhouse the first night. It was excellent and the view of the sunset was magnificent.

Sea day brunch was a little wonky. They all seemed very rushed and they forget my friend's tea order. 

I eat gluten free and never have an issue finding safe food for me to eat. Carnival does this well consistently, in my opinion. I enjoy the gluten free cake option every day at the buffet. 

Only had one disappointing meal the whole time. It was in the main dining room. My ribs were extremely tough and dry. Couldn't eat them, gave up, and asked for a salad. I had that and the lava cake for dessert. 

When it was announced we would be arriving to port late on Friday, I was able to sit back and relax because we had Fly2Fun. Carnival rebooked our flight home for the next day and put us in a hotel for the night. They emailed me all my changes and info before we were off the ship. 

All in all, nothing to complain about, and would absolutely sail on the Liberty again.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Tedx Montreal Women

I attended TedxMontrealWomen yesterday and while this post isn't about travel, it's about women empowerment. The theme for this event was inspired by Brene Brown, Daring Greatly, and asked us to think about what we could dare to do.

The event was sold out and 800 women (and a few men) filled the Imperial Palace to capacity. The line up to get in was around the block when I showed up just before 9am and I got a seat in the first row of the second floor balcony.
A photo posted by K Bron John (@kbronjohn) on
 I took notes for pretty much every talk, which covered everything from health and nutrition, to disability and the environment. Everyone was really inspiring. I can honestly say there were no bad talks! What I was also happy about was no one shied away from the "F-word" - and by that, I'm talking "Feminism"! It always annoys me when people declare they're not feminists for one reason or the other, but that didn't happen with anyone yesterday. Our feminism, our womanhood, our power - they were all embraced!

I want to leave you with a few key points from Angela Lee's talk, titled Be A Bias Breaker, because I think they can also be applied to travel.

1) Women need to nudge each other in the right direction. We need to encourage and inspire each other. Everyone needs a little nudge every once and a while to get moving or keep trying. Don't be the voice of doubt in someone else's head. Offer up possibilities and opportunities.
I hope that is something I accomplish with this blog!

2) Pause and check our biases. Is there something holding you back from achieving or going after what you want? Is there an unconscious bias at play where you think, "women can't/don't do that!" Sit and think about your beliefs. Are they valid? Are they true problems?

3) Share stories of stumbles. We all hear success stories, but rarely do we hear all the steps (or missteps!), attempts and failures along the way. Let people know where you messed up so they can learn from it. Also, let them see that the path isn't always easy, but it is surmountable.

Of course, these points can be applied to pretty much any situation, but for travel - especially solo travel - I think women have to do these three things to take the plunge and do it. We break down barriers and biases to do it and I think we should take a moment and acknowledge we have dared greatly.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Power of Social Media

Sunday I posted a video appeal to find someone on this great Earth, with very few details to go on. By Wednesday, I had a message from Mike, the travel blogger for Nomadic Texan, with an email.

That's testament to the awesome power of social media, as well as the amazing travel blogger community. I emailed right away and got a response back in the wee hours this morning. I'm really impressed and amazed.

I want to that everyone who watched the video, read my story and shared or retweeted it until he was found. I really appreciate it.

And a very special thank you to Mike for making it happen. If there's anything I can do for you, let me know. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Help Me Find Chris Pardee

Two years ago I wrote this blog entry hoping to track down a person I met in Morocco back in 2008.
That didn't amount to anything, so now I'm trying video. Now you can all get a good look at me and see me cry! That should be worth the view.

So if you can share this video with everyone you know, maybe we'll find him. Surely one of the wonderful travel community has met him. Or maybe I was just special :)

EDIT: I'm talking about the Chris Pardee listed here: and not the younger one from Virginia, who is much more notorious.

EDIT 2: We found him! Thanks to everyone who helped! 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Getting Locked Out Of A Hotel Room

I've forgotten my room key before. There was also one time I went out and my husband used the dead bolt to shut the door and went out on the balcony. He did not hear me knocking at the door or the front desk calling the phone in the room to let me in. I had to go outside to the pool area and yell up until he heard/saw me.

Anyway, nothing as embarrassing as this guy who decided to put his food tray out while naked and got locked out. His naughty bits are blurred out. Watch the security cameras as they follow him from his room, into the elevator and finally to the front desk:
Naked Guy Gets Locked Out Of Hotel Room

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What's This City Like?

I've often come up with colourful descriptions of cities for those who haven't been so they can get an idea of what it's like. I love to land in a new place and feel the vibe: What are the people like? What is the energy in the city? Are people laid back or rushing around? Are they stylish or don't care about appearances?
There's a lot you can take in based on just how people are conducting themselves.

I realize this might end up being a controversial post, but hopefully you'll also get a laugh.

This is how I describe some places I've been:

Las Vegas:  It's like a really weird acid trip or bad dream. It's kind of like someone picked up a piece of NYC and stuck it in the desert, then replaced all the cool people with dazed, drunk and glossy-eyed people.

Montreal: (this one came from Kelly Edwards) It's like Chicago and NYC had a baby and Europe is the auntie. (I agree!)

Marrakesh: It's like NYC on speed.

NYC: Artsy, electric, eccentric, fast.

Paris: Paris embodies love - love of life, architecture, food, style, everything.

Tokyo: Organized crowds with class and refinement.

Beijing: Pollution and chaos with amazing food.

I could add more, but I'm curious to see what you think or what you'd like to add to the list.
I'll update it if we get some really good ones.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Culture Shame

welcome to Japan Narita Airport by

I arrived in Japan from China much later than expected since I missed my original flight. I was tired from what had become a long day and the first thing I noticed as I walked away from the plane was how quiet everything was. Despite hundreds of people walking through the terminal, it was extremely quiet. I stepped onto an escalator and unlike China, it did not start talking to me, telling how and where to stand. Instead there were just arrows indicating which was the standing side and which was the walking side. Silent, but clear directions.

The only noise I heard next was a sole woman bowing and saying something in Japanese that I can only assume was, "Welcome to Japan." She could have been saying, "everyone stay quiet" though and I wouldn't know the difference. But it was nice, welcoming...and I wondered how much she was paid to stand there all night bowing at arriving flights.

I also noticed how clean everything was, but not too out of the ordinary since Frankfurt airport is extremely shiny and I wasn't surprised to see a bright clean airport.

Still in a bit of a daze, my friend met me and we boarded the Narita Express train to Tokyo Station. The train seat had a little hook to hang your jacket and a little cup holder. The leg space was more than ample. I had never been on such a well-thought out train. It seemed so civilized. There was even a little ledge on the window to rest your arm and fall asleep comfortably.

We got to our hotel and the bathroom amenities included a razor with shaving cream and disposable toothbrushes. They even provided pyjamas. They thought of everything - in fact, I could have arrived at the hotel with nothing and would have been comfortable. This sort of thing was standard everywhere I went in Japan. I wondered what the Japanese must think when they come to North America and check into a hotel. "Where is my toothbrush? Where are my pyjamas? What will I do?!"

 My friend and I went out for a walk to the nearest mini mart to get some snacks. The streets were spotless and the roads smooth. Everything seemed to have a place and a purpose. There were specified ways to do everything, from simple payment transactions, to how to board a train. I loved it. Once you knew what to do, it was easy.

I experienced something upon arrival in Japan that I had never experienced before. It was not culture shock. It was a mix of awe and maybe envy. It can only be described as culture shame.

We (North Americans) are so loud and aggressive. We don't take the time to do simple things. We go where we want, when we want, however we want and it causes chaos. We don't really respect other people. When a Japanese person comes here, I can only imagine they think us to be wild barbarians and I found myself embarrassed by my birthplace.

I usually return home grateful for all I have, but this time I was humbled in a different way. I saw so many ways my society could improve and just ashamed of how things are.